The mainland China authorities expect that the newly-built boundary checkpoint between Hengqin Island (pictured) and Macau – known as Hengqin Port – should be ready for use by December 20.
The same date marks the 20th anniversary of Macau’s handover from Portuguese administration to that of China, when it has been widely speculated that China’s leader President Xi Jinping will come to Macau, although there has been no official confirmation of such a visit so far. The exact launch date of Hengqin Port is also still to be confirmed.
Hengqin Island, mainland China territory next door to Macau’s newest casino district, Cotai, is being promoted as a centre for non-gaming tourism that can be complementary to Macau’s casino attractions. Macau is the only place in China where casino gambling is legal.
The news about the possible launch of the new boundary crossing facility – Macau will have jurisdiction and responsibility for running it according to a statement by China’s State Council – was given on Wednesday by Wang Yan, deputy director of Hengqin New Area Trade Office. His comments followed a tour of the facility given to media.
The facilities – due to run round-the-clock – were designed to handle a daily capacity of over 220,000 people, i.e. more than 80 million traveller movements a year, several media reports cited Mr Wang as saying.
The new arrangement for the Macau-Hengqin boundary is said to involve a simplified customs check at the Hengqin checkpoint. There has also been talk – so far no more than that – about the possibility of a visa-free regime for foreigners wishing to visit Hengqin. Currently any foreigners wishing to cross from Macau into Hengqin to use non-gaming facilities including the Chimelong theme park complex, will need to apply via the same mainland visa system applicable for most of the rest of the country.
“By December 20,” Mr Wang noted on Wednesday, “the overall works done” on the new boundary facilities “should fully satisfy the conditions” needed for public use.
He added: “…Now, Guangdong and Macau are discussing to confirm… the official launch time of the Hengqin Port. That requires our application [and] for approval from the central government.”
Mr Wang further noted: “The approval will mean that starting from the launch date, Macau’s laws are extended to the Macau area of Hengqin Port.”
The simplified customs procedures were applicable not only to mainland China residents and Macau residents, but also those from Hong Kong and Taiwan, Mr Wang told journalists. He added it would in likelihood take “three to four minutes” for such travellers to pass through electronic gates at the crossing.
Currently the most popular crossing point from neighbouring Zhuhai – in Guangdong province – to Macau, is via the Border Gate in the latter city’s northern district. Hengqin Island is part of Zhuhai city.
In the ten months to October 31, a total of over 24.8 million visits to Macau was made via the several land crossing points, according to the city’s Statistics and Census Service. More than 17.6 million trips were via the Border Gate. A further 2.5 million visits were effected from the existing checkpoint to Hengqin Island, via the Lotus Bridge that connects to Cotai.
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”There are likely to be cancellations of some Chinese New Year casino and junket parties and events [in Macau]”
Vitaly Umansky, Eunice Lee and Kelsey Zhu
Sanford Bernstein analysts