Lack of an international port and highway network linking Tangshan with nearby cities has hindered its economic development despite the city's strategic location. Situated on the coast of Hebei province and close to Beijing, Tianjin and Qinhuangdao, Tangshan is a strategic point linking the north China plain and northeast China. However, transport links to nearby cities such as Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei's capital Shijiazhuang have been a headache. Vice-mayor Zhu Yunlin said: 'Transportation is the main problem in luring foreign investment. 'Singapore senior minister Lee Kuan Yew planned to invest in Tangshan during his visit last time, but he cancelled it because there was no highway linking the city with Beijing.' Travellers have to spend four hours on bumpy roads from Beijing to Tangshan. However, the 114-kilometre Beijing-Shenyang (Jingshen) Highway, which skirts Tangshan, is under construction. It will cut the travelling time to two hours by late 1998. Another highway linking Tianjin and Tangshan, the 46 km Tianjin-Tangshan (Jintang) Highway, is also under construction and expected to be completed by next year. It will cut the travelling time from Tianjin to Tangshan from two hours to one. The journey from Tangshan to Shijiazhuang via Beijing, which takes six hours, will also be shortened when the Jingshen Highway is finished. The financing of the two highways is being shouldered mainly by the state and provincial governments. There is also a US$220 million loan from the Asian Development Bank for the Jingshen Highway. High on the agenda is the development of Jingtang port - a port co-developed by Beijing and Tangshan - and a highway link to it. An official at the Jingtang Port Authority, An Xiangguang , said Beijing had signed the joint-development contract in 1993 because capacity at Tianjin and Qinhuangdao ports was saturated. 'Beijing needs to find another port for its own use,' he said. Beijing has invested 150 million yuan (about HK$139 million) in the first-phase development of the port and holds a 20 per cent stake. The total investment in phase one, consisting of eight berths, is 1.04 billion yuan. About 900 million yuan had so far been invested, Mr An said. The Jingtang port handled 3.06 million tonnes of cargo last year, although its capacity, with only four berths in operation, was 2.9 million tonnes. It aims to handle 4.2 million tonnes of cargo this year. Mr An said: 'We do not worry about whether there is enough cargo for the port. Last year, we handled more than its capacity.' The first phase of the port's development was basically completed, although some cranes had yet to be installed, Mr An said. In order to solve the financing problem, Mr An said the port would sell more private berths to individual enterprises. Four of the eight berths in the first phase are owned by the enterprises, including Jidong Cement Plant, Kailuan Mining Authorities and two other coal-mining companies. Mr An said: 'We will continue to sell berths to enterprises as we have more space near the port for them to build warehouses. 'Tianjin has limited space behind its port for warehouses, while the port of Qinhuangdao is laden by the task assigned by the state.' Jingtang port has more freedom to develop because it has no state-assigned tasks. 'Jingtang port began its development when Shanxi province looked for a port to transport its coal outside the state plan,' Mr An said. 'Transporting coal from the north to the south will remain a problem for China because of the shortage of ports in the north.' The new Jingtang port has yet to serve as the major shipping outlet for Tangshan's industries because routes and facilities are limited and there is no regular international route. The city government plans to build an 84.4 km highway linking the port and city. It will cut the travelling time from three hours to one.