Jake's View

It’s official: Hong Kong’s port is on the way out so let’s get building

For the first time, a senior government official has said in public that the city should no longer be competing in the container terminal business. That would open the way for our biggest-ever residential mega-project

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 April, 2017, 1:08am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 April, 2017, 2:01am

Hong Kong would keep its leading financial centre status, he said, but it should no longer be competing in the container terminal business.

City, April 13


The “he” in the excerpt above is the chief of Hong Kong’s mainland affairs bureau, Raymond Tam Chi-yuen, and I consider this, the fact of who said that Hong Kong should no longer be competing in the container terminal business, to be the most important part of the excerpt. It is important because this is the first time I have heard of a senior government official saying it in public.

The context here is that Mr Tam is boosting a Beijing-sponsored scheme called the “Greater Bay Area”. Essentially it comes down to the idea that the major cities of the Pearl River Delta should not compete but work together for the good of all because then we can move mountains ... and so on.

This particular manifestation of hot air has been exhaled our way many times before, of course, and no doubt it has all the prospects for glorious success that it has had in the past. But that’s not what matters here.

What matters is that a Hong Kong government official has finally conceded that a big container port in Hong Kong may not be part of this glorious success and we ought to concede the port business to rivals across the border which are now much better suited to it.

Why Hong Kong’s container port may be in terminal decline, and what that would mean for a city that appears not to care

They are better suited to it because they are closer to the mainland industrial centres they serve instead of at the end of a traffic-clogged road over a border crossing.

Things were not always so, of course. Back in the 1970s there were a number of years when Hong Kong’s domestic exports were almost as great as all of the mainland’s. Back then a container port in Hong Kong made sense.

Not now. It all just goes to demonstrate the historical truth that the key to Hong Kong’s success has been to do what the mainland cannot do or, for reasons of ideology, will not do.

Once the mainland can and will do it, the time is up for us and we have to do something else. Stick with the old way and we’ll go out with the old way.

The chart shows you one illustration of it, which I recently came across. There are plenty more passenger cars going across the border all the time. Many personal links are being formed. But the container traffic is way down. That particular link is being delinked. Our port is in decline.

Now let us turn to future, which is not necessarily best done as Mr Tam has done by turning round 180 degrees and reading the past into the future. What the future holds for us is our biggest-ever residential mega-project. You wondered why our No. 1 developer, Li Ka-shing, is still holding on so firmly, did you? Well, this is it.

Our container port at present covers 2.2 square kilometres. Fill in the berths, take back the support yards, do it a bit more reclamation and this can easily become three square kilometres.

Just as an exercise, say that you can cover half of it with buildings, give those buildings a plot ratio of 8X, and you already have more than 200,000 seaside flats of about 600 sq ft each with top-notch transport links already in place. Plug in the numbers as you choose, the answer always comes out enormous.

So what are we waiting for? A senior government official has said the port is finished. Let’s start that housing project now.