FEATURE - With New Port, China Aims for Cleaner Development
Author: Lucy Hornby
Caofeidian, China's newest and largest iron ore port, is open for business, just 19 months after workers began to convert an isolated sand spit in northeastern China into a massive port and industrial zone.
"We Chinese do things very fast," said Wang Zhongmin, president of the Caofeidian Industry and Commerce Development Co. Ltd., which is developing the area.
But the Caofeidian project shows not just the dizzying speed of China's development, it is also meant as a clean departure from earlier policies of growth for growth's sake.
The facility, 220 kilometres (136 miles) southeast of Beijing is held up as a model in a country plagued by smelly black smoke and even fouler water from steel mills and factories.
Six of the nine members of the Standing Committee, China's highest ruling body, have visited. Five came in the last year alone, including President Hu Jintao.
When completed, it will boast a world-class steel mill, berths to unload coal, crude oil and liquefied natural gas, strategic oil reserve tanks, a petrochemical complex, a refinery, a cogeneration plant, a man-made harbour and a five-star hotel.
The first phase, through 2010, will cost about 150 billion yuan (US$19.37 billion). The bill for later phases could run to hundreds of billions of yuan.
For now, Caofeidian only has iron ore unloading facilities, a welcome arch spanning the causeway to the mainland, a breakwater and a small hotel with a seafood restaurant.
Developers must pile and pound sand from the ocean floor into 310 square kilometres of landfill by 2010. So far, 40 square kilometres have been formed on what used to be tidal flats at the mouth of the Luan river.
Caofeidian today looks like a Star Wars set. Crane-mounted towers stud an uneven desert, spraying clods of dirt into the white sky as they repeatedly lift and drop heavy weights to compact the yielding sand.
Bands of workers in blue quilted coats materialise out of the dust and fog, heading for khaki green tents for a rest and tea.
GETTING IT RIGHT
The development is backed by two steel companies, nearby ports and the Hebei provincial government.
Shougang Iron and Steel Group, China's sixth-largest steel maker, will soon break ground on a 5,500 cubic meter blast furnace. It is supposed to be ready by 2008 so that Shougang can close its Beijing plant in time for the Olympic Games.
By 2010, Shougang will have 5 million tonnes of annual steel capacity at Caofeidian. It is teaming up with China's second-largest mill, Tangshan Iron and Steel Group of Hebei Province, and will ultimately bring capacity to 10 million tonnes.
A container port and shipbuilding facilities are currently under study, even though there are already signs of glut in port capacity glut in China.
"People are always underestimating China's growth. There might be some competition, but the capacity can be absorbed," said Wang Zhongmin of the port development company.
Wang Junguo, Caofeidian office director for the Communist Party Committee of the nearby city of Tangshan, said he is confident that this time the planners will manage to achieve economic development without worsening pollution.
The industrial zone's modern, energy efficient facilities will allow China to shut down ageing, polluting steel mills and other plants in surrounding Hebei Province.
A natural deep channel will allow large ships to deliver iron ore efficiently to mills in northeastern China. A railroad will link to the Datong-Qinhuangdao line, China's most-heavily used route for coal, coke, iron ore and steel. A coastal highway is being completed.
But Wang Junguo notes that Caofeidian's developers are still tweaking one crucial part of the plan. Residences for the 200,000 workers who will populate the city will be built closer to the mainland than in the original design.
"The plan is not to emit pollution, or waste water," he said, pointing to a diorama