Historically, Tianjin owes its position as one of China's richest cities to its role in shifting the coke and coal of the northern China seams to places further down the coast. These days it also enjoys a prominent position in transiting containers that carry locally made products to ports across the world.
Xingang, the new port, sticks out on two legs into the Bohai Sea. On one side the Port of Tianjin Authority operates eight container berths, while on the other side, the American-based operator Sea-Land has a licence to operate four berths constructed by the city in 1993 but overhauled by Sea-Land in 2000.
Officials are now confident that they can raise the long-term growth rate in container traffic closer to the national average. In 2000, throughput stood at 1.7m teu, a rise of 31 percent on 1999 and putting it in fourth place nationally behind Shanghai, Shenzhen and Qingdao.
Plans to shift some of the older coal terminals from the northern section of the port will create the space for new container facilities and planners hope to construct six new container berths. The 18 berths should boast a capacity of 2.5m teu. The terms of the Sea-Land investment in Tianjin give the company the first right of refusal on the additional container berths.
But it would be wrong to conclude that the port is withdrawing from its traditional market. Last year four bulk terminals were inaugurated, two dedicated to coal and two to coke. The Port of Tianjin Authority was able to tap outside investment for funding their construction. The coal terminal berths, capable of handling 50,000 dwt ships, were constructed with a US$50m loan from a UK bank and a Hong Kong company bought into a joint venture at the coke terminal.
China itself is the source of the lion's share of international trade in coke, a commodity that accounts for 10m tonnes of 68m tonnes of Tianjin's bulk cargoes.
With 22m tonnes of coal, the port is the country's second largest coal exporter after nearby Qinhuangdao. The coal that passes through Tianjin comes by rail from the coal-rich province of Shaanxi. As part of the new terminal project, a new set of rail lines are being constructed to serve the new coal and coke terminals south of the channel.
Lucrative niche activities of the port include a flammable goods terminal containing a pair of 15,000 dwt berths and one 50,000 dwt berth. The berth is tied into a 52km pipeline that feeds jet fuel to Tianjin airport. There are plans to extend the pipeline to the airport in Beijing.
There is also the Sinor terminal, a forest and steel products terminal that is owned by the Norwegian company Gear Bulk.