PM Hasina opens Bangladesh’s longest bridge over River Padma

<SUNBIGHT>~Asia~Eke~26th June,2022 @ 05:06 WAT~Aljazeera

Dhaka, Bangladesh – Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has inaugurated a landmark bridge over the turbulent Padma River after years of delay due to allegations of corruption that forced the World Bank to walk away from the nearly $4bn mega project, which will connect Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka to the underdeveloped southwestern region of the country.

The opening on Saturday of the eponymous Padma Bridge – Bangladesh’s longest bridge to date which has been dubbed a “symbol of national pride” – marks a momentous occasion in the South Asian nation’s history.

The construction of the 6.15km (3.82 miles) bridge began in November 2015 to connect 21 districts of the country’s southwest with Dhaka via road and rail, thereby cutting travel time considerably.

It usually takes 15 to 22 hours to cover a distance of 180-300km (111-186 miles) between the southwest districts and Dhaka.

The double-layer steel truss bridge incorporates a four-lane highway on an upper level along with a single-track railway on the lower level.

With a construction cost of $3.87bn, this is one of the largest mega projects Bangladesh has ever undertaken and the entire amount is financed by the Bangladesh government.

In 2012, the World Bank withdrew from a $1.2bn loan agreement for the project following allegations of corruption. Following suit, other donors, including Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), also pulled out of the project.

Hasina, who spearheaded efforts to build the bridge, famously declared that her government would self-fund the project.

Her decision faced a battery of scepticism from the country’s economists as well as political opponents since Bangladesh did not have any experience in building such mega infrastructure without financial support from multilateral donors.

“Some people said we would always be beholden to others, but our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman taught us the importance of self-respect,” Hasina said, addressing a sea of people on Saturday.

Sheikh Rahman was Bangladesh’s founding father who led the movement to secede from Pakistan in 1971.

“This Padma Bridge is not a pile of brick and cement, but a symbol of Bangladesh’s pride, honour and ability,” she said.

“We have shown the world that we can.”

An engineering marvel

Terming it as an “engineering marvel”, experts say the construction of the bridge is a great feat as the Padma is the most “treacherous and unpredictable” river after the Amazon River of South America.

China’s state-owned Railway Major Bridge Engineering Group (RMBEG) was tasked to lead the construction of the bridge with the help of about 1,200 Bangladeshi engineers.

With steel piles being driven 122 metres (400 feet) deep into the river bed, Padma Bridge has the record of having the deepest piling among all the bridges in the world.

The bridge project director, Shafiqul Islam, told Al Jazeera that the water that flows at Mawa point (one end of the bridge) every 20 seconds is equal to the total amount of water used in Dhaka city a day.

“After Amazon, Padma has the strongest current [roughness in water] in the world. So we had to go for piling that is the thickest and deepest in the world,” he said.

Mentioning another unique feature of the bridge, Islam said, modern friction pendulum bearings (FPB) have been used to support the steel superstructure and the concrete pier foundation.

“Such bearings have never been used anywhere in the world before and they can withstand a magnitude 9 earthquake,” he said, adding that the bridge bearings can sustain more than 10,000 tonnes, exceeding the limit of any other structure in the world.

Islam said as they faced a plethora of engineering challenges, the cost of the project rose to almost three times the initial estimate of $1.2bn.

“Besides, the devaluation of Bangladeshi currency Taka has played a major role in raising the cost, as more than half of the project’s expenditure has been paid in foreign currency.”

Why a significant structure?

Located some 68km (42 miles) from Dhaka, the Padma Bridge will work as a gateway to the country’s southwestern region and will significantly reduce travel time between Dhaka and major districts in the region, including Khulna, Jashore and Barishal.

It will also slash the distance between Dhaka and Bangladesh’s second-largest seaport, Mongla, by 100km (62 miles).

The mighty Padma separates the southwest region from Dhaka and people are forced to travel on ferries or launches that make slow journeys. Perishable goods transported to Dhaka from southwestern districts by truck often rot because on the long trip that can sometimes take 22-24 hours due to the long tailback in ferry stations.

According to a study by the government-run Bridge Division, the Padma Bridge will save a total of 187,727 hours of waiting for ferries per day for 2,620 vehicles. It is estimated that with the opening of the bridge, about 24,000 vehicles will cross the river every day – a significant jump from the current number of 2,620.

The study also pointed out that the economic impact of the bridge will help increase the annual gross domestic product (GDP) of the southwest region by 2.5 percent and the overall GDP of the country by more than 1.23 percent.

Economist Selim Raihan, who conducted a study on the economic impact of the bridge, said its main benefit is that it will connect southwestern districts – known for fishing and agriculture – to the economic lifeline of Bangladesh – the Dhaka-Chattogram economic corridor.

“As communication and transportation over Padma River had been solely reliant on ferries, much industrialisation didn’t take place in the southwestern districts so far,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Readymade garment sector – Bangladesh’s most prominent industry and main export earner – has remained completely absent from those districts.”

“I believe, investors and industrialists will be interested to invest there that will spark a massive economic growth.”■

Russia and China open cross-border bridge as ties deepen

<SUNBIGHT>~Global~Nkwo~13th June,2022 @ 00:27 WAT~Reuters

RUSSIA and China have opened a new cross-border bridge in the Far East that they hope will further strengthen trade as Moscow reels from sweeping Western sanctions imposed over its actions in Ukraine.

The bridge linking the Russian city of Blagoveshchensk to the Chinese city of Heihe across the Amur River – known in China as the Heilongjiang – is about 1km long and cost 19 billion roubles ($342m), the RIA news agency reported on Friday.

Amid a fireworks display, freight trucks from both ends crossed the two-lane bridge festooned with flags in the colours of both countries, video footage of the opening showed.

Russian authorities said the bridge would bring Moscow and Beijing closer together by boosting trade after they announced a “no limits” partnership in February, shortly before President Vladimir Putin sent his forces into Ukraine.

“In today’s divided world, the Blagoveshchensk-Heihe bridge between Russia and China carries a special symbolic meaning,” said Yuri Trutnev, the Kremlin representative in the Russian Far East.

China wants to deepen practical cooperation with Russia in all areas, Chinese Vice Premier Hu Chunhua said at the opening.

Russia’s Minister of Transport Vitaly Savelyev said the bridge would help boost bilateral annual trade to more than one million tonnes of goods.

Cutting journey time

The bridge had been under construction since 2016 and was completed in May 2020, but its opening was delayed by cross-border COVID-19 restrictions, said BTS-MOST, the firm building the bridge on the Russian side.

BTS-MOST said freight traffic on the bridge would shorten the travel distance of Chinese goods to western Russia by 1,500km (930 miles).

Vehicles crossing the bridge must pay a toll of 8,700 roubles ($150), a price that is expected to drop as toll fees begin to offset the cost of construction.

Russia said in April it expected commodity flows with China to grow and trade with Beijing to reach $200bn by 2024.

China is a major buyer of Russian natural resources and agricultural products.

China has declined to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine and has criticised the Western sanctions on Moscow.■

China warns U.S. over interference in Taiwan

<SUNBIGHT>~Asia~Nkwo~5th March,2022 @ 06:43 WAT

Report By Christain Mporogwu

CHINA has threatened “heavy price” against the United States if it attempts to support Taiwan’s independence efforts.

The warning came as a five-member delegation headed by former U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen arrived the Taipei capital city amid fears of China’s invasion of Taiwan.

The U.S defence delegates were received by Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.  

Chinese Foreign Ministry via its spokesman Wang Wenbin stated “Such moves will only accelerate the demise of the Taiwan independence forces,” 

“The U.S. will also pay a heavy price for its adventurist act.”

“The Chinese people are firmly determined to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,”

“The attempt by the U.S. to show support to Taiwan will be in vain no matter who is sent. China urges the U.S. to abide by the one-China principle,” he said.

China has increased military preparations, sending hundreds of its air force jets into Taiwan’s Air Defence Zone.■

Animoca Leads $10 Million Funding Round In Hong Kong NFT Platform Amid Crypto Craze

<SUNBIGHT>~Cryptocurrency~Orie~27th February,2022 @ 19:10 WAT

UCOLLEX, a Hong Kong-based NFT platform, has pulled $10 million fresh capital from local blockchain game developer Animoca Brands.

The startup’s latest funding round comes as sales of the digital collectibles are gaining ground in the city, which has seen an increasing number of projects launched over the past year. 

Another investor who also participated in the fundraising is MCP IPX One Fund, an investment fund established by the Japanese branch of MCP Asset Management and Animoca, according to a statement issued on Thursday.

Ucollex said the financing round values the company at $110 million. The new capital will be used to strengthen its team and its platform with the aim of delivering an experience that combines digital collectibles and entertainment through features such as virtual artwork battles, cofounder and CEO Robert Tran said in a written response.

“We believe there is still a lot to do to turn collectors from being passive supporters to becoming an integral and active part of the development process,” Tran added. “As long as more creators are emerging and content is growing at the pace that we have experienced in the last few years, there will be tremendous growth for Ucollex.”

NFTs—short for non-fungible tokens—are crypto assets that record the ownership of a digital item such as a piece of artwork, a photo or a video. Anyone can create, or “mint,” NFTs, by uploading their digital files to a blockchain that acts as a public ledger. 

Established in 2020 by Robert Tran and Raymond Hung, Ucollex is a marketplace that sells NFTs featuring toys and pop culture collectibles. Prior to the crypto business, Tran cofounded local watch brand Undone and iClick Interactive Asia, a marketing technology company listed on the Nasdaq. While Hung’s career includes a stint serving as the CTO of Undone as well as working at Microsoft Hong Kong for more than a decade.  

Last year, Ucollex teamed up with world’s largest crypto exchange Binance and British luxury fashion brand Jimmy Choo to launch a NFT collection. (Disclosure: Binance recently announced a strategic investment in Forbes.)

Yat Siu, cofounder and chairman of Animoca, said he believes his company’s latest investment in Ucollex will make it easier for intellectual properties to participate in the metaverse, according to the statement. 

Ucollex’s funding round underscores the increasing popularity of NFTs in Hong Kong, which has seen an increasing number of new projects emerged over the past year.

Among the successful launches are Shrooms, an NFT collection featuring three-dimensional mushroom avatars with Asian elements such as mahjong and red banners. The project said on its Twitter that all of its 3,888 NFTs were sold out within two minutes after its public launch in January. 

But as the emerging market for NFTs has grown, so too have reports of scams. Monkey Kingdom, a Hong Kong NFT project that has more than 23,000 followers on Twitter, said it became the unwitting victim of theft in December.

Buyers of the NFTs lost 7,000 Solana tokens, which translates to about $1.3 million at the time, after a hacker infiltrated the project’s group chat and posted a phishing link, which was used to steal personal data and gain access to their accounts. Monkey Kingdom said it had launched a fund to compensate the victims for some of their losses.■

[Courtesy: Zinnia LEE// Forbes]

Two Chinese fighter jets enter Taiwan’s air defence zone

<SUNBIGHT>~Asia~Nkwo~25th February,2022 @ 00:33 WAT

ON Wednesday (February 23), two Chinese military jets flew into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ), marking the 12th intrusion this month.

According to the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense, two People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Shenyang J-16 fighter jets flew into the southwest corner of Taiwan’s ADIZ (MND).

Taiwan responded by sending planes, issuing radio warnings, and deploying air defence missile systems to keep an eye on PLAAF planes.

An ADIZ is a zone that extends beyond a country’s airspace where approaching aircraft are asked to identify themselves by air traffic controllers.

So far this month, China has dispatched a total of 40 military aircraft into Taiwan’s identification zone, including 22 fighter jets, 17 spotter planes, and one helicopter.

Over the previous two years, Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, has complained of regular such operations by the Chinese air force, despite the fact that the planes never approach Taiwan.

Taiwanese fighter jets were dispatched to warn Chinese planes, and air defence missiles were deployed to “watch the actions,” according to the ministry, which used conventional language to describe Taiwan’s response.

Taiwan has been following the Ukraine situation with bated breath, fearful that China could seize the opportunity to invade the island.

Despite the fact that no extraordinary moves by the Chinese military have been detected by Taipei, the administration has raised its alert level.

China has never renounced the use of force to annex Taiwan, and it often opposes US weaponry sales and other displays of support.■