Hong Kong revitalising its container port infrastructure
Reports on Hong Kong’s Smart City Blueprint acknowledge that provisions are being made to integrate road, rail, tunnel and airport infrastructure. However, little is known about how developers plan to connect and enhance Hong Kong’s other world-renowned piece of infrastructure, the container port in Kwai Tsing.
The idea of a “smart city” covers a wide range of opportunities, but the essence is to merge advanced technology and infrastructure to improve the places and spaces where people live and work.
Hong Kong is fortunate to have some of the finest infrastructure in the world, including the MTR, which moved 2 billion passengers in 2017, and Hong Kong International Airport, which handled 73 million passengers last year.
Around the world, container ports enable the physical flow of international trade, and Hong Kong’s port is among the very best, handling over 17,000 container ships and 53,000 river barges in 2017 with 20 million containers of volume throughput. These stats are a tangible reminder of the critical role Hong Kong plays as a super-connector to the global economy.
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s free-port status, rule of law, ease of doing business and proximity to the mainland make it unique in the region and a vital component of the global supply chain. With the development of equipment automation, sensor technology, artificial-intelligence-enhanced operating systems, and blockchain technology, Hong Kong is well positioned to become a next-generation port that will provide greater efficiency and value to customers.
Container ports also provide valuable employment to their communities. Hong Kong’s port provides over 6,000 direct jobs and supports another 175,000 indirectly. The port is a key contributor to trading and logistics, one of the four key pillars of Hong Kong’s economy.
Therefore, efforts are being made to ensure the long-term viability and success of the port, by creating a new operating model that takes a more holistic approach across Kwai Tsing, and applying the latest technology and business process design to increase the port’s regional competitiveness.
Hong Kong’s connection to ocean shipping has played a vital role in supporting international commerce and improving lives. Critics of the port say Hong Kong should walk away from its history and obligations to the community. It is important to note, however, that market share at the Hong Kong port has declined over the past several years due, in large part, to growing competition from the mainland. While Hong Kong cannot control the threat from regional competition, it can control the steps it takes and opportunities it exploits to counter these competitive threats.
The development of the Greater Bay Area could provide an opportunity for the Hong Kong port with its international status under “one country, two systems” to play a valuable role in augmenting a system of ports across the bay area economic zone.
There has also been much discussion over the past two years about a possible mixed use of port areas in Hong Kong, and studies are now underway to determine the technical and economic feasibility of these concepts. Building housing above the container terminal is an innovative proposal that needs to be carefully considered and quantified from all sides, to determine the magnitude of the opportunity against the cost and practicality of implementation.
Peter Levesque, the group managing director of Modern Terminals Limited, stated that Hong Kong and its Smart City initiative have an opportunity and obligation to create a new value proposition for Hong Kong’s port, one that will increase its competitiveness in the region and allow the port to thrive in the decades ahead. By rethinking traditional operating models and applying new technology, the port can generate greater efficiency and improve its service offering to ocean carriers.
“To make this happen, we need a renewed sense of urgency, a willingness to break down barriers, and the courage to think differently. The opportunity for the future of Hong Kong’s port is compelling and the time for action is now. A smart city would do well to embrace a smarter port,” he wrote in an article for the China Morning Post, Hong Kong.