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The Chinese Port System: Competition and Cooperation

Only 25 years ago the container port system in mainland China was still in its infancy stage. During that time, Hong Kong acted as the only container gateway to China and the Taiwanese ports of Kaohsiung and Keelung benefited from Taiwan’s economic success in international trade. In May 1980, the Chinese government established the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, the first special economic zone in China.

By the late 1980s, mainland Chinese ports in the Pearl River Delta saw the first fruits of this opening up policy.

Growth dynamics slowly started to shift from Taiwan to the Delta following port development in Shenzhen, Guangzhou and later also in other ports. As a result, the Pearl River Delta recorded an average annual growth of 19.3% between 1985 and 1995. The market share of the Delta peaked in 1995 at 55% (see Figure 1). In the ten following years the Delta’s growth remained high with traffic increases of between 12 and 13% per year. The Chinese government developed a strong focus on Shanghai in the mid-1990s. As a result the Yangtze River Delta emerged as the most prominent container growth region in China reaching an elevated average annual growth of 30% in container throughput between 1995 and 2005. The region increased its market share in combined China/Taiwan/Hong Kong container traffic from 5.6% in 1995 to 30% in 2008, with Shanghai and Ningbo as the main growth engines. In the early 1990s, the Shanghai Port Authority started to convert general cargo terminals into container terminals, building dedicated container terminals at the Waigaoqiao area. Efforts were also made to build the Waigaoqiao area into a procurement and
distribution centre for the Asia Pacific Region. The capacity problem and the lack…

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Prof Theo Notteboom, PortEconomics

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