Trade Insights

26 July 2021 • 25 min read

China Ports Driving Global Trade and Growth

Editorial Team

The major ports in China are the key axes of global trade. Take a look at some of the top Chinese sea ports, from Hongkong to Ningbo and beyond, to understand their contribution to world trade and to determine which ones suit your business needs.

Have you ever noticed how many products carry the fine print ‘Made in China’? Sure, the term ‘Made in China’ has been associated with cheap, low-quality, and imitation goods, but that is set to change soon.  

China has been working on aggressive strategies such as ‘Made in China 2025’ for years. The country hopes to change its image of a low-end producer by 2025 and position itself as a high-end producer.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought China into the spotlight, with the virus being called the Wuhan Virus and the Chinese Virus right from the beginning. Despite the negative publicity and the financial impact of the pandemic, China was the only major economy to record a growth from 5 percent to 6.5 percent in 2020.  

In this article, we will explore the top China ports, how they contribute to China’s economic growth, and the role they play in global imports and exports. Here is a quick list of the ports we will be covering:

  1. TaPort of Shanghai
  1. Port of Shenzhen
  1. Port of Hong Kong
  1. Port of Ningbo-Zhoushan
  1. Port of Guangzhou
  1. Port of Qingdao
  1. Port of Tianjin
  1. Port of Dalian
  1. Port of Xiamen

China’s Port Dominance: 158 Ports Enabling International Trade

From GDP indices to export lists to research and development spending, China dominates indexes and lists worldwide, underscoring its relevance to the global economy. Seven of the 10 largest ports in the world are in China, which makes sense considering China’s role in global trade, its competitive costs of shipping, and the fact that it is the world’s largest container manufacturer.  

China has 34 major ports and 2000 minor ports, many of which are globally relevant in terms of their economic and historical contributions. The 158 ports on China’s eastern and southern coasts play a particularly important role in import-export activities.  

China's ports play an important role in global trade

A port’s selection can significantly impact your business. Therefore, it is essential to plan your strategy accordingly. Althoughthe Port of Shanghai is the biggest port in China and one of the busiest ports globally, other Chinese ports may better suit your needs and those of different traders because of their size, accessibility, growth, and preferential policies.

Click here to learn everything you need to know about importing from China to India

Shanghai Port

Opened in 1842 as part of the post-Opium War treaty settlement, the Shanghai port overtook the Port of Singapore to become the world’s largest port in 2010. Located on the Yangtze, Huangpu, and Qinghai river systems, it is a deep seaport. Furthermore, it is bordered by Hangzhou Bay to the south and the East China Sea to the east.  

Shanghai has been designated as one of the four large port megacities globally due to the trade volume that passes through it and its economic effect on the local population. Smaller ports surround Shanghai; consequently, it is the Chinese port that processes the most cargo.

The Shanghai port was also ranked as the ‘Best Connected Port’ by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in 2019.  

Yangshan Port in Hangzhou Bay, within the Port of Shanghai network, is the busiest container port in China because of its proximity to major manufacturing and industrial hubs. Its high level of efficiency and extensive use of automation solutions, from robots to software automation for processing, has resulted in it being often referred to as the ‘Largest Automated Port’ in the world.

China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO), the world’s third-largest commercial fleet owner, is headquartered in Shanghai, emphasising just how relevant the port is for large-scale shipping.  

Get more Shanghai port information here, to plan your shipments

Shenzhen Port

Several Chinese ports are located along the 260-kilometre coastline in Shenzhen, Guangdong. Among them, the Shenzhen Port is one of the busiest. It is also one of the fastest-growing container ports in the world, China’s second-largest port, and the third-largest container port in the world.  

As part of the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Corridor, the Shenzhen Port transports cargo to border provinces via road. The port has a natural protected harbour in the Pearl River area.

The port includes a range of areas that handle various cargo and goods. Donjiaotou, Da Chan Bay, and Neihe are some of the largest areas with 162 berths collectively. These include 51 berths for over 10,000 deadweight (DWT) vessels, 43 berths to accommodate 10,000 DWT vessels, and nine berths for consignees. There are also 18 berths each for containers and passenger ferries and 23 berths for non-production activities.  

Get more Shenzhen port information here, to plan your shipments

Hong Kong Port

In the mid-1800s, when it was administered by the British, Hong Kong became a transit hub for goods transported between India and Europe. Today, it is under the administration of China and is a major financial and commercial centre.

Hong Kong port is located in Victoria Harbour in South China. Once a tiny fishing village, Hong Kong has transformed into one of the most important ports in the world, thanks to the port’s excellent connectivity.  

Apart from being one of the most populated and largest deep-water ports in the world, in the past few decades, it has been a critical hub connecting Chinese manufacturers with the world.  Nearly 500,000 vessels and close to two hundred and fifty million tonnes of cargo pass through its ports each year, along with close to 30 million passengers.

Compared to other ports in the region, Hong Kong has one of the fastest turnaround times. Container vessels have a 10-hour turnaround time, while turnaround time is roughly 47 hours when it comes to off-site-anchored tankers. This is over twice as fast as the 23.5 hours median turnaround time for ports worldwide.  

COSCO Information and Technology HK and Hong Kong International Terminals (HIT) are among the major container terminals. DP World (DPW), which is also a part of the port, operates nine terminals with 18 berths at Kwai Chung, Tuen Mun, Stonecutters Island, and Tsing Yi.

With annual passenger traffic of more than 15 million, Hong Kong port operates frequent ferries to Macau as well as other mainland China ports. Apart from the commercial sector, the port also has a dedicated dockyard for government and stations fleets of national importance.  

Get more Hong Kong port information here, to plan your shipments

Ningbo Zhoushan Port

Ningbo is one of the oldest ports in the world. It was opened in the 8th century AD during China’s Tang dynasty. Since then, it has become the world’s largest cargo destination. Until 2006, Ningbo and Zhoushan were two separate ports. In 2006, post a merger, they overtook Shanghai to become the world’s leading cargo port.

This port dominates the global trade scenario because it is the world’s busiest port for cargo, shipping about a billion tonnes annually. It is located on the east coast of Hangzhou Bay, across from Shanghai, and has good access to inland China through waterways, rail, and roadways.  

Five hundred and sixty ports are connected to the Ningbo port from 90 different countries. Crude oil is handled at a dedicated terminal. The ore handling yard in Ningbo is among the largest in the world.

A hub for international companies, the Zhejiang Free Trade Zone is conveniently located near Ningbo Zhoushan port.  

Get more Ningbo Zhoushan port information here, to plan your shipments

Guangzhou Port

The port of Guangzhou has been a major hub of Chinese trade for over 2000 years, dating back to the Qin Dynasty, circa 200 BC. It was a key stop in the historic ‘Maritime Silk Road’ that connected China to the coastal regions of Southeast Asia and India.

Located on the Pearl River delta, Guangzhou lies between the rivers of Dongjiang, Beijiang, and Xijiang. It is among the busiest seaports in mainland China.  

After the merger with Huangpu in 2014, Guangzhou has become one of the biggest and most comprehensive ports in Southern China. It handles traffic from more than 80 countries and 300 ports.  

The port has good connectivity to the Nansha Wetland Park base and industrial hubs. It also has rail, road, air, and inland connectivity.

It has many storage areas, secured warehouses, customs gates and entry points, and logistic centers. Almost all cargo, from agricultural goods to industrial machinery, is transported through the port.

Get more Guangzhou port information here, to plan your shipments

Qingdao Port

The Port of Qingdao is relatively new as compared with Ningbo and Guangzhou. Qingdao port opened in 1892 and was declared a free port in 1899, where traders from across the world could visit. That gave Qingdao port an advantage because it was not allowed at other Chinese ports; under China’s laws, only certain ports were open to foreign trade.  

Qingdao was declared an ‘open city’ in 1984. Since then, the city itself and the port have received a large amount of foreign direct investment (FDI). As a result, Qingdao has world-class infrastructure even though it is not the largest port in the country.

In terms of traffic, Qingdao ranks 8th worldwide and 3rd in Asia. Also, it has become a major seaport in eastern China.  

Qingdao handles traffic from over 130 countries and directs ships to 450 other ports. Although Qingdao receives ships from eastern China, it primarily services vessels from other Pacific countries such as Japan, South Korea, and the US.  

The Qingdao harbour is split into four zones, each acting as a separate entity. Dagang and Qianwan zones deal with cargo and containers. Qingdao is primarily a port for oil and petroleum tanks. The Dongjiakou zone deals with containers, cargo, and iron ores and is located farther away from the city and other ports.

Get more Qingdao port information here, to plan your shipments

Tianjin Port

The Tianjin port or the Port of Tanggu, operational since the 1st century BC, has been a major hub of trade in historical northern China.

One of the largest deep-sea and riverine ports in China, Tianjin port occupies the most extensive area in northern China. It is the largest man-made harbour in China. Moreover, it forms the primary shipping route to Beijing.  

It lies alongside the Haihe River, close to Bohai Bay and near smaller ports in the region. Tianjin port covers over 120 square kilometres, which makes it one of the largest globally. Tianjin State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (Tianjin SASAC) owns the port, while the Tianjin Port Group (TPG) operates it.

The port of Tianjin caters to all sizes of ships, with 200-plus berths to accommodate passenger, container, and cargo vessels. In 2015, the port saw just over 100,000 passengers. Based on its freight traffic (tonnage), Tianjin ranks 4th worldwide. Further, it ranks 9th for container traffic.

The port’s network covers more than 600 ports in 180 countries. It services vessels from all over the world. Close to 100 shipping lines from across the world stop by in Tianjin, while 60 liners have operations in the port.  

Tianjin port can be split into nine zones. Of these, the principal zones are Dongjiang, Beijiang, and Nanjiang. In addition to ship locks, the harbour is sheltered from adverse climate conditions by tidal barrages. With Police, Ambulance, and Emergency Services available within its premises, the port is completely autonomous.  

Additionally, Tianjin has several shipyards that provide comprehensive maintenance and repairs and shipbuilding facilities. The main yards of the port include the CCCC Bomesc Maritime Industry, CSIC Tianjin Xingang shipyard, and Taku dockyard.

Get more Tianjin port information here, to plan your shipments

Dalian Port

Founded in 1899, China’s Dalian port is relatively new. The first container vessels arrived there in 1972, and since then, it has become a busy seaport in northern China. A large percentage of container and cargo traffic in Dalian originates from nations along the Pacific Rim and the northern and eastern regions of Asia.

Dalian is a deep-water port located on the Yellow and Bohai Seas, making it the second-largest centre of transhipment activity on the Chinese mainland. It serves vessels from over 160 nations.

Most of Dalian’s revenue comes from local shipments of commodities and minerals.  

The Dalian port has signed an agreement with the port of Yingkou to integrate its management with them.

Seven berths, previously owned by PSA China, Singapore Dalian Port Investment, and Nippon Yusen, are now operated by Dalian Container Terminal (DCT).

In addition to being accessible by both rail and road, the port has a large container and cargo storage area. Modernised deep-water berths that are equipped to handle heavy vessels go as deep as 16 metres at the port of Dalian.  

Get more Dalian port information here, to plan your shipments

Xiamen Port

Previously known as Amoy, the Port of Xiamen was a major hub for the spice trade during the medieval era. Xiamen’s rise as a modern port began after the Opium Wars when it was opened for Western trade.

It is positioned on the island of Xiamen along the estuary of the Jiulongjiang River. It ranks 17th globally for its cargo thoroughfare. After its 2010 merger with the Port of Zhangzhou, Xiamen became one of the world’s largest and Southeast China’s biggest ports.

Xiamen is among the few ports globally that are capable of handling sixth-generation ships and mega vessels.  

With 74 berths in total, the port is divided into different zones. Among them, around nine handle containers exclusively, while the rest handle cargo. Each berth averages 10,000 tonnes of cargo handling. However, some berths also have a capacity of over 100,000 tonnes.  

The port is spread over 30 kilometres of the harbour, with an anchorage depth of around 17 metres. The port’s main operational zones include the Haitian and Liwudian zones.

Technologically advanced, Xiamen provides services to all the leading shipping lines. Each month, it serves almost 500 vessels from close to 50 countries. It also provides regular service along 70 routes, including ones that go through the top ports in Europe, North and South America, and Africa.  

Additionally, the port operates a small passenger ferry. The ferry joins Xiamen to other ports on the mainland. It also provides ferries to the nearby islands of Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Shanghai and occasional services to Kinmen.

Get more Xiamen port information here, to plan your shipments


With aggressive strategies such as Made in China 2025, China is changing how the world views its products. Driven in large part by massive exports from its ports, China’s growth has contributed to fighting poverty globally. If China succeeds in its current efforts to further industrialise, 20% of the world’s population will live in an industrialised environment. This will mark a notable increase from the present-day number, which is less than 10%.

China’s ports are hubs connecting the country with the world and are engines of growth for one of the most remarkable economic success stories in history.  

Also read China Emerges as India’s Top Trading Partner In 2020 Amidst Diplomatic Rifts

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