A homely solution to terminal decline

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 March, 2012, 12:00am


'Nonetheless, we must also appreciate that the open storage and port back-up operations in the New Territories are providing support for the logistics industry and port operation in Hong Kong.'

Raymond W. M. Wong
Deputy director, Planning Department
Letters to the Editor, March 27

Let's put some perspective on the logistics industry and port operation in Hong Kong.

Logistics is a military term for getting ammunition and food to soldiers. We have adopted it for the warehouse and delivery business because the word has a fine, sophisticated ring. The lout who will not shut off his engine down in the car park is not a truck driver. He is a transport systems logistics technician. Get it straight.

As to port operation, it's on its way out in this town. The most we can really do for it is wave it a long goodbye as it slowly declines.

Don't believe me? Look at the first chart. It shows how decisively Guangdong has gone past Hong Kong in container movements.

This should not be surprising. Why go to the trouble of shipping goods by driving an extra distance through a busy city after crossing a border, with its inevitable grasping hands and slowdowns, when you can ship those goods out much closer to home?

The only possible answer is that there are no suitable ports closer to home and this was indeed the case when we built the Kwai Chung container terminals. But it is not so any longer and the Kwai Chung terminals are now destined for terminal decline. We live in Hong Kong by doing what the mainland cannot or will not do. When the mainland can and will do it, we had best find something else to do.

The state of affairs is actually worse than the first chart indicates. As the second chart shows, most of our port business is now in transshipment rather than direct export-and-import trade. We take the boxes from one ship and put them on another ship. It's the low-value-added side of the port business.

And, worse yet, one of the requirements for this transshipment business is space to stock empty boxes until someone wants them again. Great swathes of the New Territories are now slathered in rusting containers, often covered in creeping vines when it turns out that no one really wants them.

What we have done here is offered our rich and densely packed town as a space-intensive and unsightly dumping ground for the shipping industry so that it can operate more efficiently at other ports along the Guangdong coastline. Is this really what we mean by a world city?

Yes, it is when Mr Wong calls on us to appreciate that 'open storage and port back-up operations' provide support for the logistics industry and port operation.

Perhaps he does not really understand the implications, but that does not change what they are.

It's a little like the occasional business seen in the mainland of accepting payment to import rubbish from developed countries on the pretence that it constitutes recycling.

Fine if you really need the money that badly. In Hong Kong we don't.

I have a grand idea for Kwai Chung terminals. As the port business fades away, let's convert them bit by bit to a big waterfront residential project.

I'm sure it's what Li Ka-shing has in mind anyway for the land on which Hongkong International Terminals operates. It is what he has done with every other waterfront site he has ever controlled and right he was each time. And if you protest that we will lose a key pillar of the economy this way, I cite the evidence of London and New York. Both were once among the world's biggest port cities. Now you would have trouble finding dock space in them for a rowing boat. London and New York moved on. So should we.