1 June 2003
Hong Kong Enterprise - PRD Update
Pearl River Delta Update
A turnkey project that will accelerate industrial growth in the northwestern hinterland of the Pearl River Delta (PRD) now hinges on upcoming marine environmental studies by Hong Kong Government.
Shenzhen port authorities want to scoop out a 20km-long navigation channel through the silted waters of Deep Bay so that fourth-generation container ships can access three relatively under-used container ports: Chi Wan, Ma Wan and Shekou.
In turn, this will bring spin-off benefits to Hong Kong as a financial and logistics engine helping drive the seemingly never-ending exponential growth of the PRD.
However, a quarter of the proposed channel lies in Hong Kong waters and the environmental worries are twofold: where the huge amount of excavated mud can be dumped, and what the knock-on effects on marine life, including the habitat of endangered white dolphins, will be.
Mainland authorities are pressing Hong Kong for a speedy - and favourable - response so they can kick off the Shenzhen Port Tonggu Channel project within months.
They would quickly employ a fleet of dredgers and excavators to begin sucking the channel through the muddy seabed.
At the same time, development work would begin to expand facilities at the three container ports - which now have 85 berths between them and which last year had a combined cargo throughput of 56 million tonnes.
Stage One of the dredging project envisages a 13.5 metre-deep channel. By 2007, however, the dredgers would be back to scoop away two more metres. Then, in the final stage, they would take a third massive mud-bite down to 17 metres to clear the way for the very biggest container ships.
Hong Kong environmentalists are closely watching the situation. Previous marine excavations for port work and developments seriously muddied the waters of marine breeding grounds, especially those of the white dolphins unique to Hong Kong waters.
Elsewhere in the PRD, the establishment of a European Union-style Pearl River Delta Conference, to coordinate economic strategies and eliminate duplication of infrastructure strategies, could facilitate projects such as the proposed Tonggu Channel.
Ma Lik, a Hong Kong deputy to the National People's Congress, says support for the idea of such a conference comes from other Hong Kong deputies including Cheng Yiu-tong, a member of Hong Kong's Executive Council.
Hailing its likely benefits are such influential Guangdong academics as Feng Xiaoyun, professor of economics at Jinan University in Guangdong, who regards the present situation as producing "orderless competition among the PRD cities".
Supporters envisage an important coordinating body with the chief executives of Hong Kong and Macau joining the mayors of the nine biggest PRD cities to thrash out projects, proposals and policies.
The Conference would also give greater influence to PRD cities wanting to maintain a competitive edge against Shanghai - long regarded as the dominant "dragon head" in the Yangtze River Delta.
Says Ma: "With the establishment of this high-level Conference, the Delta cities can work out a more reasonable division of labour in the region's economic development and avoid unhealthy competition."
One immediate benefit he foresees is cross-border coordination of trade fairs and international exhibitions, to ensure both sides continue to enjoy maximum exposure to international buyers.
Guangdong, as host of Asia's two largest trade fairs in April and October, would continue to concentrate on heavy-industry products such as motor vehicles and machinery, plus agricultural implements and secondary items. Hong Kong would focus on such regulars as watches and clocks, electronics, jewellery, housewares and gifts/premiums, among others.
WRITTEN BY GEOFFREY SOMERS
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