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China’s container ports in musical chairs after Covid-19 lockdowns

Amid Covid-19 flare-ups that saw various Chinese port cities locked down in the last two years, Qingdao port has clawed its way up the country’s rankings.

Qingdao, in Shandong province, rose to fourth position in 2022, from sixth spot in 2021. The Yellow Sea port overtook Guangzhou, after increasing its throughput by 8.3% to 25.67 million TEUs, three years after becoming the first port in north China to handle more than 20 million TEUs in a year.

As Shanghai port was affected by the city’s lockdown from April to June 2022, this gave Qingdao opportunities to gain market share. Last year saw Qingdao add 28 new container shipping services, resulting in international cargo volumes increasing by 10%.

Qingdao, Rizhao and Lianyungang have been the main beneficiaries of China’s zero-Covid-19 policy, which was enforced at the start of the pandemic, before being abolished in late 2022.

Shandong governor Zhou Naixiang has laid out his ambitions for the province’s ports, particularly Qingdao. This year, the third phase of an automated terminal in Qingdao’s Qianwan sub-port will be built.

Qingdao port officials have claimed that hydrogen-powered automated rail cranes and 5G technologies have saved more than 80% of the manpower for Qingdao Port's fully automated container terminal.

Shanghai held on to its crown as the world’s busiest container port, handling 47.3 million TEUs in 2022, a 0.6% rise over 2021 but well below the national average following the port city’s two-month lockdown from April to June 2022.

Altered trade patterns, Covid-19-related lockdowns and strategic reorganisations have seen eight out of 12 of China’s top container ports change their national ranking during the pandemic, according to Alphaliner’s latest report.

Lianyungang, now ranked China’s 10th busiest port, has become a launchpad for China’s Belt and Road initiative: yearly throughput exceeded 5 million TEUs for the first time in 2021 and in November 2022, Shanghai International Port Group took a 23% stake in the Lianyungang Port Group, providing US$220 million of funding.

Martina Li
Asia Correspondent

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