“… this far and no farther.”

By the year 2010, container throughput at Chinese ports will double, Zhang Chunxian, Minister of Communications, told a shipping conference in Shanghai. “China’s fast economic growth and its reinforced role as a global trading power will secure huge transport demand in the coming years,” he was quoted as saying.

China’s new deep water port at Yangshan, close by Shanghai, is scheduled to begin operations late this month, and is expected to handle 2.2 million TEUs at the completion of its first phase. By the year 2020 an eventual annual capacity of 20 million TEUs is envisioned at the port.

Just two days later, the Chinese announced that two smaller container ports are also under construction in the vicinity of Shanghai. The Jiaxing terminal at Qixing Town will have an annual capacity of 350,000 TEUs and the container port at Hangzou will be able to accommodate 60,000 TEUs. According to the announcement, by transporting directly from a local port, companies in these two cities can cut shipping costs by 18 percent to 30 percent per container.

By any standards, the Chinese are taking giant strides in the field of containerization. Their efforts to improve their standing in international commerce has had a profound effect on every industrialized country, and the planning behind this rapid rise is worthy of examination and emulation. The above information reveals a careful and well-thought out strategy with respect to container terminal construction. This strategy runs counter to the steps currently being taken by U.S. port authorities, and bears no resemblance to the long-term planning taking place on our shores. Yangshan, for example, is projected to attain Hong Kong and Singapore proportions. The Chinese already know that. Instead of Yangshan ending up as an American-style blivvit, however, they have the foresight to build smaller, more localized port terminals … in order to “cut shipping costs”!

We’ve had a 40-year head start in this business of planning, building and operating container terminals but those neophytes are showing us their heels. We have an intolerable and inexcusable situation at our West Coast’s LA/Long Beach port complex. We have a similar fiasco taking shape at the East Coast’s NY/NJ port complex. Traffic congestion and air pollution have progressed to stages heretofore unimaginable in communities surrounding these port complexes, yet those in authority persist in dreaming about attaining “king-port” or “hub-port” stature to the detriment of everyone and everything else. “Bigger is better” seems to be the dominating thought. But isn’t that what the camel’s owner was thinking when he was piling on the straw?

There are any number of smaller ports on the West Coast that would dearly love to take on sizeable numbers of TEUs. The same holds true for the East Coast. A line should be drawn at these two port complexes by state officials … “this far and no farther”, should be the mandate. Pay close attention to the farsighted Chinese. Whether you approve of their form of government or not, all their executives, including port officials, are required to run things efficiently and profitably. Maybe it’s time to take a good look at U.S. port officials. Maybe it’s time we held their feet to the fire.