China Merchants Group, one of the country’s most powerful state-owned conglomerates, has begun building a 5 billion yuan (US$703 million) industry base in Jiangsu province to support the manufacturing of cruise ships, part of Beijing’s efforts to grasp core technologies to catch up with global leaders. China Merchants Industry Holdings, a unit of the conglomerate, plans to conduct research and development and establish a dockyard in Haimen, a coastal city 150 kilometres (93.2 miles) from Shanghai, to supply key parts for cruise ships. Along with shipyards in the Haimen area, China Merchants envisions becoming a global powerhouse in building cruise ships, as it seeks to catch the rising wave of Chinese outbound tourists who are taking to cruise holidays. “We have been relying on imported materials and technologies to build cruise vessels, but the next step we will take is to create a leading shipbuilding base worldwide with grasp of intelligent manufacturing technologies,” said Wang Cuijun, a deputy general manager of China Merchants Group. The Haimen industry base and the shipyard, also under construction, are expected to start operation in 2022, covering a combined area of 650,000 square metres (7 million sq ft). Shipbuilding is one of the 10 core technologies included in Beijing's “Made in China 2025" industrial strategy, an ambitious plan that will help the country catch up with global leaders in 10 key industrial sectors, including robotics, chips and new-energy vehicles that reflect China’s determinations to pursue global prowess in core technologies. Interactive Infographics: Why ‘Made in China 2025’ incurred America’s wrath China Merchants Holdings delivered a polar expedition cruise ship on Friday to US company Sunstone Ships, the very first China-made vessel of its kind. The passenger vessel, strengthened to withstand collisions with icebergs, will soon conduct a 12-day maiden voyage to Antarctica. The vessel, 104.4 metres in length and 18.4 metres in width, has the capacity to carry 254 passengers and sail at a maximum hourly speed of 16.3 knots. China Merchants Industry has secured an order for 10 polar expedition vessels from Sunstone, the world's leading provider of expedition vessels in April 2017, and began building the ships in March last year. The company said it deployed more than 800 engineers to develop the ship over the past one and a half years. Polar cruise tourism has become increasingly popular in China over the past decade. Less than 100 Chinese visited the South Pole in 2008, but the number jumped to 8,273 in 2017, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO). The association said 16 per cent of tourists visiting Antarctica between 2017 and 2018 were from China, trailing only the US. China Merchants Industry will compete against global rivals such as Croatian shipbuilder Brodosplit which delivered Hondius, a new polar cruise ship, to Dutch-based company Oceanwide Expeditions (OEX) in May. Beijing plans to merge its two largest shipbuilders – China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) and China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) to improve manufacturing and management efficiency of the sate-owned giants as a way of bolstering the nation’s competitiveness in the global shipbuilding industry, according to the companies’ stock exchange filings in July.