INFRASTRUCTURE & CONSTRUCTION - Connectivity beyond Imagination


Committee members visit the Liantang/Heung Yuen Wai Border Control Point

In time for China’s Belt & Road initiative and Greater Bay Area plan, AmCham has launched a new industry-based committee dedicated to infrastructure development and construction. Ian Chung, Senior Vice President (China) at AECOM and chair of the new chamber committee, draws a big picture of what it means for Hong Kong

By Kate Whitehead

Ian Chung (6th from right), Senior Vice President (China) at AECOM and chair of AmCham’s new Infrastructure and Construction committee, leads a visit to the Tuen-Mun Chek-Lap-Kok Link, part of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge

Ian Chung (right)

The world’s largest Tunnel Boring Machine, a monster piece of equipment measuring 17.6 meters in diameter, is being used to construct the road tunnels that will make up the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. It is backed up by two TBMs 14 meters in diameter.

This may sound like some big equipment, but it’s not until you stand at the entrance to the tunnel that the scale and complexity of the project really hits you. That’s what members of AmCham’s new Infrastructure and Construction Committee found out back in July when they visited the Tuen-Mun Chek-Lap-Kok Link, part of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.

“We brought them to the site so they can see the actual size of the tunnel before completion. When people see how it’s built, they appreciate how technically challenging it is to create something like this,” says Ian Chung, Senior Vice President (China) at AECOM and chair of AmCham’s new committee.

Committee members also visited the Liantang/Heung Yuen Wai Border Control Point where they saw firsthand the innovative solution for the U-turn of the TBM. This crossing into China will vastly improve access into eastern Shenzhen.

“We visited these two projects because they will be big projects for the Big Bay area, helping the connectivity between Hong Kong and China,” says Chung.

U.S. expertise applied locally

As founding chairman of the AmCham committee, which was set up in July, Chung intends to underline the importance of infrastructure for the success of Hong Kong and to identify business opportunities for those both within the chamber and outside.

“With AmCham’s connections, its platform, it can help bring a lot of business opportunities to our members and Hong Kong residents,” he says.

With more than 25 years of experience providing management and technical expertise to large-scale transportation, civil and infrastructure projects – including the project to build a third runway at Hong Kong International Airport – he’s ideally positioned to serve as the chair of AmCham’s new committee.

For 40 years AECOM has played a significant role in Hong Kong’s infrastructure success. It was responsible for building 80 percent of the new towns – from Sha Tin and Ma On Shan to Tsuen Wan, from Tuen Mun to Tseung Kwan O. The U.S.-based engineering and construction firm is also part of other major projects, such as the container terminals, MTR lines, Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong high speed rail and the Central-Wan Chai bypass.

So when Chung says that infrastructure is important for Hong Kong, he knows what he’s talking about. Put simply, if Hong Kong stops investing in infrastructure, it will stop growing.

“Hong Kong itself will require continual infrastructure and development, and it provides a lot of opportunities in the construction industry and for other related people,” says Chung.

The economic equation

Infrastructure is a huge part of Hong Kong’s economy – more than 400,000 people are employed in the construction sector, representing 10 percent of Hong Kong’s GDP. The World Economic Forum Global Competitive Index currently ranks Hong Kong No.1 in infrastructure quality.

But if Hong Kong is to maintain that position, it needs to look beyond the confines of the city.

“Hong Kong is a limited place, at some stage we may have built all the roads and MTR stations we need and may not need a new airport for another 30 years, so we need to look at opportunities outside the Hong Kong market,” says Chung.

Many of those opportunities will come from the Belt & Road initiative and the Big Bay Area development plan. Chung recently met the Guangzhou’s vice-mayor Cai Chaolin to discuss the opportunities for Hong Kong of the Big Bay Area.

In the meeting, Cai was keen to impress on him that currently the fastest way to reach Guangzhou from Hong Kong is a two-hour train from Hung Hom, but with the completion of the new high-speed rail it will take just 48 minutes, bringing the two cities closer together.

“People connectivity is very important, business to business connectivity is very important. If you live in West Kowloon, you can be in Guangzhou in an hour and start your business,” says Chung.

He sees Hong Kong as ideally positioned to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Belt & Road and Big Bay Area initiatives – it is physically close to China and operates under the One Country, Two Systems framework.

But he cautions that there are others – such as Singapore – that are out to seize the same opportunities, and Hong Kong mustn’t lose its natural advantage.

Long-term growth

What’s more, these are long-term opportunities, with a 30-year road map for Belt & Road. A free trade market with a stable government, Hong Kong offers one of the most attractive financing platforms in the world, Chung says.

“If there is an infrastructure development project in a Belt & Road country – say somewhere in the Middle East – then someone can come to Hong Kong to seek a [financing] platform and technical advice here from professionals – lawyers, accountants, architects, engineers – for different kinds of services.”

Much is already being done to ensure Hong Kong remains well positioned to make the most of these big projects. The Hong Kong Trade Development Council hosts business delegations; the government is promoting a positive image of Hong Kong’s business environment; and Chief Executive Carrie Lam herself has recently visited Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

Now is the chance for the AmCham committee to get involved.

“We can have some business matching. For example, we will arrange a visit next year to go to some Belt & Road countries so that our members can meet people there and explore opportunities for themselves,” says Chung.

It is not unusual to experience resistance to change. Ahead of the opening of the MTR in 1979, Chung recalls the reluctance of some people to accept the project, complaining that it was a waste of money when buses did the job just fine. Even the opening of the West Rail in 2003 met with complaints that it was underused.

“Infrastructure is there to support people’s lives and businesses. Once it’s built, there will be a period when it’s not at full capacity, when businesses are growing into it,” says Chung.

Hong Kong is at the cutting edge of infrastructure globally. Chung says there is a Hong Kong AECOM bridge expert who is now being called on to build bridges internationally, in Canada and Turkey. And with a workforce of AECOM Hong Kong comprising 95 percent of local people, there are many opportunities to nurture and develop talent locally.