Dalian's port infrastructure is among the best in northern China. Attention to back-up facilities and land areas given over to the handling and storage of containerised and general cargoes has been given priority by the local government ? arguably to a greater extent than in neighbouring Tianjin.
However, for Dalian, its best inland cargo source and distribution potential lies in the plateaux of Heilongjiang province and northern Liaoning, which provide perfect terrain for highway and rail connections. The port is connected by both, to Harbin and Changchun. Harbin has been the centre of American President Lines' intermodal network for several months.
Tianjin's proximity to Beijing and Hebei province gives it an advantage in the region to the west of Dalian. But further north, there is little doubt that Dalian is the most strategically placed port.
Dalian is frequently described within shipping circles as a port of unrealised potential. It has still to makes its name as a major terminal on the longhaul shipping routes to the US and Europe, and evolve as a hub port for the burgeoning intra-Asian trade. Even China Ocean Shipping Co. has seemingly turned its back on the port's potential for inclusion on its transpacific and Europe networks.
This will change in the coming years. Dalian Container Terminal (DCT), a joint venture between the Port of Singapore subsidiary, Singapore-Dalian Port Investment and Port of Dalian Authority, has recently been established and will eventually pull in container traffic.
Currently the terminal provides three deepwater berths suited for handling the latest generation containerships. By the end of 1998, a further two berths will beoperational, all with post-panamax gantry cranes.
DCT is expected to handle 450,000 teu during its first full year of operations, which is around 70 per cent of Dalian's entire projected container throughput for 1997. On conservative estimates, authorities believe the new terminal will experience 20 per cent annual growth in throughput for the next five years.
Effectively, DCT is taking on where Dayaowan Container Terminal, located about 15km outside the DCT complex, has partly failed. Dayaowan was once strongly tipped as having the potential to develop as China's 'super port'. P&O Containers hinted in the early 1990s that it was keen to move in there with a joint venture similar to that put together by P&O Asia in Shekou. However, little materialised, and the terminal has never attracted a strong traffic flow.
Around 85 per cent of Dalian's current container throughput comes from the feeder business, and much of that share constitutes cargo shipping on the China-Korea and China-Japan sea routes. South Korea's leading name, Hyundai Merchant Mari*e has a regular weekly service connecting with Busan. Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL) has two services, one running into the Japanese ports of Kobe and Yokohama, and the other linking up with Hong Kong.
Dalian's northern location promotes the viability of direct short sea shipping links with South Korea, and it may also benefit from the fruits of direct trade talks between Taiwan and the mainland.
Leading shipping line, Evergreen, has indicated that it wants to start calling at Dalian on its recently introduced Hong Kong-Japan-Korea-US west coast container service. The line believes that the sea voyage from Hong Kong provides adequate opportunity to make a number of direct calls on the China coastline. Dalian is one of the proposed stops.
In short, Dalian has yet to make its mark on the shipping industry. But with the added clout of DCT, and the rapid development of the local economy; Dalian's significance in the maritime sector will grow.
For the Port of Singapore Authority, DCT represents its first foray into overseas port and terminal operation. It is hardly likely that such a prestigious initiative will be allowed to fail.