Ports

A Calculated Plunge

The success story of Changshu.

In the early 1990s, Pan-United took a calculated plunge into uncharted waters in Changshu. The Chinese city was then an underdeveloped county scouting for foreign investors. PanU founder Ng Kar Cheong took just 30 minutes to spot the potential in a cotton field alongside the Yangtze River.

One man’s foresight

The local government was hoping to build a coal terminal. Mr Ng walked along the river and proposed a larger ambition: An international port. He observed that the site was only 54 nautical miles from the river mouth. It enjoyed silt-free waters and was blessed with a very deep 13.3 metre draught. Perfect attributes of a deep-water port! It was only 90 km west of Shanghai and 40 km north of Suzhou.

At that time, shipping traffic to China was low. Many Yangtze River ports were making losses. The central government had yet to liberalise rules on port investments, particularly foreign investments. Changshu was without a port. That impeded its growth when other coastal cities were racing ahead.

Building a greenfield port

In 1994, the Changshu government and PanU joined hands in a common vision to propel the city’s economic development. Together they would set up an international port and attract port-dependent industries to Changshu.

The first two years were the toughest. There was absolutely no cargo to attract vessels, and no vessels to attract cargo. The greenfield project had to secure layers of approvals from provincial and central authorities, and overcome the lack of local infrastructure.

Mr Ng’s son, Patrick, pushed on, undeterred. The local government lent strong support. The port welcomed its first vessels in 1997, the same year that the Asian financial crisis broke out.

Camaraderie and perseverance pay off

By 2004, cargoes handled by CXP hit 4.1 million tonnes. In 2014, volumes swelled to more than 10.0 million tones and over 90,000 TEUs. CXP became one of the leading hubs in central and eastern China for steel, pulp and paper cargoes.

Consequently, the port’s infrastructural capabilities catalysed the economic transformation of the Changshu economy. Its 10th anniversary was a great cause for celebration. The grand event was graced by none other than the then-Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

  • port 4
    The late Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew (middle) was welcomed by the then Changshu Party Secretary Yang Shenghua (left) and Pan-United Chairman Ch’ng Jit Koon (right) at the Port’s 10th Anniversary in 2004.
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    (From left) Patrick Ng, Ch’ng Jit Koon and Ng Kar Cheong with the late Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew during the event.
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Land preparation works for the port in January 1995.

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    We did not have any experience in developing or operating ports then. But we had always been port users. We therefore had an understanding of what port users need, and we saw the superior natural attributes of the site Patrick Ng
    Deputy Chairman, Pan-United Corporation Ltd, and Vice-Chairman, Xinghua Port Group
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    Changshu has attracted investments from over 600 Chinese and foreign companies from more than 20 countries. FDI have exceeded US$8 billion. Many recognise the advantage of Changshu Port’s comprehensive logistics services. Credit must go to Pan-United for being the first to invest in an international port in Changshu. Wang Jiankang
    Changshu Mayor, 2004
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    We didn’t even have proper roads to get from Changshu City to the site. There was just a mud track leading to the area. Unruly knee-high weeds lined the meandering river. Tang Weixuan
    Former Changshu Mayor, 2004
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    To this day, many people would not have dared to commit themselves under those circumstances. Bao Yongquan
    Former GM of Changshu Economic Development Group Co Ltd, 2004
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