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China floats idea of mega port to rival Singapore

Proposed port would be constructed on islands near Hong Kong outside the Pearl River estuary

Multi-billion dollar project, including up to 50m teu of container capacity, envisaged as a strategic move to strengthen trade in Southern China and drive integration through one of the country’s largest economic power houses

BEIJING is considering a proposal to construct a massive integrated super port across islands south of Hong Kong, consolidating regional port resources to challenge Singapore’s shipping hub status.

The infrastructure project, potentially costing over $20bn, is also envisaged as a strategic facility to strengthen trade and economic growth in the country’s south and drive integration of the Greater Bay Area, known as the GBA — a mega-region encompassing nine cities in the Pearl River Delta including Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.

The proposer, Liang Jianwei, a special researcher at the Counsellor’s Office of the Guangdong Provincial Government, said the super port could accommodate the world’s largest vessels including 22,000 teu containerships, very large crude carriers and 400,000 dwt valemax ore carriers.

Liang, former head of the Guangdong Maritime Safety Authority, was speaking at a GBA development forum during Hong Kong Maritime Week.

The container section of the new port is envisioned to have an annual capacity of 45-50m teu, requiring around Yuan120bn ($16bn) investment, he revealed.

It is planned for the Wanshan Islands offshore in the mouth of the Pearl River, southwest of Hong Kong. The islands have 289 km of coastline and natural depths of 10-30 metres.

Liang said this would overcome draft limitations that prevent fully laden ultra large ships from calling Pearl River Delta ports.

According to his estimates, ports, including Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, lost about 6m teu in 2021 to Singapore, indirectly solidifying its maritime hub status.

Fierce domestic competition between the three Chinese ports also prevents economies of scale and weakens overall competitiveness, Liang added.

As such, Hong Kong, which is Singapore’s main Asian rival, has ceded ground in recent years, with container throughput falling annually. Meanwhile Shenzhen and Guangzhou lack free port status and institutional flexibility to become true hubs, he said.

“So the problem now is quite serious.”



He believes the new port could resolve this, but needs co-operation between local governments and the private sector. Due to ‘one country, two systems’, collaboration between Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong is especially important.

Liang suggests establishing a Greater Bay Area Port Authority, exercising administrative functions over the mega Pearl River port, co-ordinating construction and applying Hong Kong’s free port system.

He also recommends that investment vehicles — comprising major state firms such as China Merchants, Cosco Shipping and Shenzhen Port Group — ought to build the deepwater port, with shared construction, operation and benefits.

Liang said his proposal, submitted to Beijing two years ago, has passed a feasibility study by the Transport Planning and Research Institute of the Ministry of Transport.

“The next step is to get investors on board,” he told Lloyd’s List on the sidelines of the conference.

He hopes the project can provide tangible impetus to integrate the GBA, which has yet to make substantive progress since it was proposed by Beijing in 2015.

Guangdong is among the few Chinese provinces yet to achieve port consolidation, partly because assets are held by several powerful state and private operators rather than the provincial government.

These include China Merchants, Hutchison Ports, Cosco Shipping, Guangzhou Port Group and Shenzhen Port Group. In Hong Kong, terminal operators also include Modern Terminals and DP World.

But Liang argues existing port areas in Hong Kong and western Shenzhen can be retired to free up land for higher-value use after the new port is built, although co-ordinating different operators’ interests could be challenging.

Other ports in the region can take on supporting roles based on individual strengths under the overall port cluster.

“From the perspective of serving national development strategies, building this new port will be very meaningful,” he concluded.


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