China - emerging force in global marine transport
China is becoming increasingly important in the global marine transport industry thanks to its booming port business and steady economic growth.
According to statistics with the Ministry of Communications (MOC), the number of containers handled annually by Chinese ports skyrocketed from 15.59 million in 1999 to 48 million in 2003. China dealt with approximately one fourth of the containers in global marine transport last year.
As a country known for its marine navigation inventions such as compass, China started to lag behind Western countries since the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) emperors adopted policies to lock out foreign trade and marine transport.
Things started to change after the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949. But the real turning point appeared after the reform and opening-up policy was adopted 25 years ago.
In order to better cater Chinese ports to the country's fast economic growth and development of foreign trade, China significantly increased its investment in port construction and automation and made itself an increasingly competitive player in the global marine transport industry, which used to be dominated by the United States and the European Union.
Huang Guosheng, a veteran port manager from the Guangzhou port in South China's Guangdong Province, said the booming port industry accurately indicates the country's robust performance in foreign trade.
In the first half of 2004, China's export and import totaled US$523 billion, up 39.1 percent year-on-year. During the same period, the cargo handled by Chinese ports amounted to 1.568 billion tons, up 26.2 percent compared to the same period last year, according to MOC sources.
An MOC survey estimates that Chinese ports will be able to handle a total of three billion tons of cargo and 100 million TEUs by 2010, making China the world largest container-handling hub.
While China's port industry kept developing as a whole, a number of Chinese ports started to make astonishing appearances on the world stage.
In 2003, China's largest Shanghai port ranked third worldwide in cargo-handling quantities, next only to Hong Kong and Singapore. With the Yangshan Deep-Water port in Shanghai, the east China metropolis is now expecting approximately 10-km deep-water shoreline and 50 deep-water berths. The Shanghai port is very likely to become the world largest trade port by 2020, according to a plan released by the Shanghai port administration.
At present, the Shenzhen Port, located in south China's Guangdong Province and boasting water more than 13 meters deep, is the second largest port on China's mainland and ranks fourth worldwide.
The northern Tianjin port has set its eyes on entering the list of the top ten ports worldwide in six years. The 144-year-old northern port handled 160 million tons of cargo last year and currently is the No. 1 port in North China.
In fact, China's fast and steady economic growth has not only benefited the port industry but also contributed greatly to the country's ship building and repairing businesses as well as finance, insurance and legal services related to marine transport.
China's shipping and marine transport industry is now in a golden growth phase hardly seen in centuries, said Li Kelin, president of the China Shipping (Group) Company.
It seemed that the old China "having ships from more than 10, 000 countries anchored to its ports" in the 15th century is now rejuvenating itself some 500 years later.