Monday, June 24, 2019

Riding along China’s Maritime Silk Road (MSR): State-of-the-Art in port research (and beyond)

China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) has been so far a rather fuzzy concept: Particularly in regard to ports, China has been talking to virtually every country or, rather, every port manager in Europe and around the world has been visiting Beijing more than frequently. Lately, however, BRI has started to shape up, in no small measure thanks to the research of the MEL journal; Haralambides & Associates; University of Venice; Dalian Maritime University (China); and Ningbo University (China). Specifically: 

In March 2015, with the authorization of the State Council of China, China's National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Commerce jointly released Visions and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road. The document clearly emphasized the construction, and/or the further development, of 15 seaports, namely, Shanghai, Tianjin, Ningbo, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhanjiang, Shantou, Qingdao, Yantai, Dalian, Fuzhou, Xiamen, Quanzhou, Haikou, and Sanya.

Our research has assessed the “capability for sustainable development” of the above ports, and on the basis of this, we have divided them in 4 categories: (a) international hub ports (Shanghai); (b) regional hub ports (Tianjin, Guanzhou, Shenzhen, Dalian, Ningbo, Qingdao); (c) node ports (Yantai, Quanzhou, Fuzhou, Shantou); and (d) ports of local interest (Xiamen, Haikou, Sanya).[1]

At the same time, the Chinese government has identified –so far ‘informally’- 65 countries of interest along the BRI. We have tabulated Origin-Destination (O/D) matrices between the above 15 Chinese (BRI) ports and the 65 countries/ports of “BRI interest”. Our data comprises all types of traffic: Bulk; General Cargo; Containerized Cargo. This data will become publicly available soon so as to enable “meaningful port partnerships” between China and the rest of the world, as well as meaningful ‘visits’ of port managers to China.

Together with researchers from Dalian Maritime University, China, we have identified the ports which would make meaningful economic sense for inclusion in the BRI network in West Africa;[2] along the Yangtze river;[3] and along the ‘Maritime Silk Road’, from Valencia-Genova-Trieste-Piraeus to East China. In the same research, we are also looking at Chinese industry relocation due to port development along the BRI.

In (Mediterranean) Europe in particular, our recent research is proposing ways to link BRI plans with the to-be-revised TEN-T Networks, particularly as EU economic activity is moving eastwards (central and eastern Europe) and our new, revised, TEN-T will have to be “very different” from the existing one.[4]

Finally, in view of China’s strong prioritization of issues of ‘sustainable development’, and its recent conviction to talk only to sustainable ports, we are advancing new methodologies for assessing the sustainability of port development, based on scientifically weighing 4 independent factors: (a) Operational capabilities of the port; (b) Economic well-being of the port-city and its territory; (c) Environmental performance of the port-city; and (d) Human capital and technology development.

HE Haralambides

[1] Chuanxu Wang, Hercules Haralambides  and Le Zhang (2019 forthcoming) “The Role of Major Chinese Seaports in the Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI)”.
[2] Kang Chen, Jiajun Li, Hercules Haralambides and Zhongzhen Yang (2019 forthcoming) “Determining Hub Port Locations and Feeder Network Designs: The Case of China-West Africa Trade”.
[3] Yiran Zhao, Zhongzhen Yang and Hercules Haralambides (2019) “Optimizing the transport of export containers along China's coronary artery: The Yangtze River”. Journal of Transport Geography, Volume 77, May 2019, pp. 11-25.
[4] Paolo Costa, Hercules Haralambides and Roberto Roson (2019 forthcoming) “From Trans European (Ten-T) to Trans Global (Twn-T) Transport Infrastructure Networks: A conceptual Framework”.

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