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The port system in northern China

Only 20 years ago the Chinese port system was still in its infancy stage. Hong Kong acted as the only container gateway to China. Since the second half of the 1990s, throughput at Chinese mainland ports started to accelerate. In recent years, shipping lines have been dedicating higher capacities and deploying larger vessels to cope with the increasing Chinese imports and exports. Chinese port activity is mainly concentrated in three regions: the Pearl River Delta (PRD), the Yangtze River Delta (YRD) and the Bohai Sea Economic Rim (BER). The PRD in the south with main ports Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou was the first to benefit from China’s opening up policy launched in the late 1980s. The YRD with main ports in Shanghai and Zhoushan/Ningbo started to grow significantly in the late 1990s. In more recent years, the northern BER with main ports in Tianjin, Qingdao and Dalian, has witnessed remarkable growth (see Figure 1). This contribution looks at the evolving port hierarchy in the BER.

Port hierarchy in Northern China

Although most ports in China still remain under public ownership, more room has been given to market players, such as private logistics firms, foreign global terminal operators and national and international shipping lines, to take part in port activities. As a result, small and large firms cooperate and compete for port business. The same holds for the port system in northern China. There are 11 ports located in the region and classified into three so-called multi-port gateway regions (see Figure 2). All three regions serve international trade but differences exist. Region A is strongly focused on the north-south axis between the provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning. Region B is the gateway to Beijing and the surroundings while it also is a key port region to satisfy the national demand for coal. Region C has a strong focus on international trade as Shandong Bay is one of the world’s prime manufacturing areas.
Three groups of ports can …

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Lin Feng, Dalian Maritime University, China; Theo Notteboom, ITMMA, University of Antwerp, Belgium
Edition: Edition 61

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