Time to compete as co-operation talk puts win-win scenario at risk

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 November, 2004, 12:00am

The tax dollars of Hong Kong's hard-working citizens would be well spent sponsoring senior members of the Tung administration on an all-expenses paid junket to the new Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport.

One trip north on the 12-lane highway that funnels travellers and trade to the 18 billion yuan jewel in Guangzhou's infrastructure crown would surely put an end to all the disingenuous spin about regional 'co-operation' between airports and 'win-win scenarios'.

The magnitude of the Baiyun project is breathtaking, and Below Deck believes that any official who continues to trundle out the tired old 'co-operation' message hasn't actually seen the facility.

A quick speedboat trip out to Guangzhou's new port at Nansha would also clear a few heads.

Nansha is a huge, modern port with the dockside infrastructure to compete with any port in this region, a fact not lost on China's two biggest container lines, which just happen to be minority shareholders.

The A5 Forum - the discussion group set up to promote co-operation between south China's airports - hasn't met for more than year now. Guangzhou was supposed to host the next session but I guess they were too busy building what is potentially Asia's premier airport.

With an available area of 15 square kilometres, the site is roughly 20 per cent bigger than Chek Lap Kok. And Baiyun authorities have the ambition and multi-layered governmental support to use every square inch of it - sooner rather than later.

Does this sound like an airport that was designed to be a cog in south China's passenger and trade transport networks? Only if it is the central cog around which satellite facilities orbit.

There have been a lot of conferences and seminars recently on the evolution and development of south China's transport networks - the movement of people and products by air, land and sea.

The official talk from an endless array of private and public-sector speakers is of 'joining hands' with our brothers across the border in a 'win-win scenario'.

But when was the last time you saw a public official from Guangzhou attend one of those conferences? Officials from Shenzhen have been similarly scarce. They are invited to speak at every event about how cross-border co-operation can be enhanced. Their silence speaks volumes.

Passenger volumes at Baiyun were up 45 per cent in the first nine months, to 14.89 million, with international travellers growing a comparative 80.1 per cent, according to Baiyun's own figures.

Air cargo volumes are up 25 per cent year on year, to more than 471,600 tonnes; again, international shipments were the fastest-growing sector in the first nine months, up 70 per cent.

These figures are even more impressive when one considers they were largely achieved without the benefits of the new airport, which opened on August 5.

Next year the results are destined to be substantially stronger.

Baiyun officials reckon the explosion of air cargo business at their airport will require construction of a new terminal within two years; the 'old' one has an annual capacity of 1.1 million tonnes.

However, the more progressive officials at China's newest airport are wise enough to know that world-class infrastructure does not run itself.

Privately, they admit they face challenges at the management level, an area in which they would like to lean on Hong Kong and Singapore for expertise.

This presents a potential dilemma for Hong Kong: should we open a new revenue stream by offering to train Guangzhou officials who we know will gladly usurp our position as the region's premier logistics hub? Or should we politely decline knowing that equally qualified executives from Singapore will jump at the opportunity, eventually leading to the same fate for Hong Kong?

Whatever the decision, one thing is abundantly clear: Hong Kong needs to stop spreading naive malarkey about co-operation, roll up its sleeves and compete.

Guangzhou and Shenzhen already have.




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