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The Chinese Technology Powering Yangshan Port

By Shen Xiaoti and Wang Li Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2022-07-12

Driving from Lin'gang New Area, part of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone, across the vast Donghai Bridge, Yangshan Port leaps into view. Giant cargo ships sit dockside, as neat rows of gantry cranes move along rails to lift and lower containers of every color—continuously loading, unloading, and transferring Covid-19 supplies, daily goods, and industrial products, in order to keep all essentials moving to every corner of the globe amidst the fog of Covid-19. 

During his tour of Shanghai in November 2018, President Xi Jinping was linked via video to the automated container terminal at Phase IV of Yangshan Port to hear a briefing on pier construction and operation. President Xi pointed out that major economies must also be strong maritime and shipping nations. He noted that the completion and opening of Yangshan Port have created favorable conditions for Shanghai to open wider to the world by accelerating its development as an international shipping hub and pilot free trade zone. He urged the port to have world-class ambition and courage, be the best of its kind, and set even more world-firsts. The President expressed his hope that Shanghai would successfully steer the construction, management, and development of Yangshan Port, further improve its soft infrastructure environment, and keep enhancing its port operation and management ability and overall service capacity, in order to play an ever greater role in China's all-around opening up and the Belt and Road Initiative. 

For the past three years, people at Yangshan Port have kept President Xi's earnest request in mind. They have continually deepened reform and opening up, courageously broken new ground, and strived to produce more world-firsts, while turning the port into an anchor of stability for the global logistics chain. 

A world leader 

In 2021, Yangshan Port registered a container throughput of 22.81 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units), up 12.8% on the previous year. This helped the Port of Shanghai to record a throughput of over 47 million TEUs, keeping it first in the world for the 12th year running. As the world's largest and most intelligent automated container terminal, Yangshan Phase IV alone registered an annual throughput of more than 5.7 million TEUs for the first time.


Containers from all over the world are loaded and unloaded at Yangshan Port near Shanghai, September 2021. Accumulated container throughput has exceeded 200 million TEUs since Yangshan Port first went into operation. PROVIDED BY SHANGHAI INTERNATIONAL PORT GROUP 

"The core technology of Yangshan Phase IV is 100 percent Chinese-made. Though many of our technologies lead the world, we feel that there always is more to be done, as hard work and innovation offer unlimited potential," said Gu Zhihua, manager of the IT department for the Yangshan Phase IV Terminal under the Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG). Yangshan Phase IV's big data analysis and intelligent decision-making platform officially went live at the end of 2020. The platform enables the terminal's intelligent control system to continually conduct high-volume testing and system optimization in the virtual space, thus making the port's "brain" even smarter and more efficient. On December 23, 2021, Yangshan Phase IV broke yet another record when it posted a throughput of 25,488 TEUs in a 24-hour period. 

Thanks to the all-out efforts of everyone at Yangshan Port, a string of industry-leading pilot projects have continued to blossom and bear fruit. These include SIPG's ultra-remote intelligent command and control center and a fleet of 5G driverless trucks with Level 4 autonomy. In 2022, the port will complete full R&D upgrades for its core technologies, which feature completely independent intellectual property, thus providing a further boost to efficiency at the terminal. 

A fresh chapter 

At SIPG's production division headquarters, smart screens display the operations of each terminal in real time. Yang Yanbin, deputy general manager of SIPG's production division, explained that this was the digital platform for smart port operations that SIPG had developed in response to Covid-19. The vessel plan for Yangshan Port has been pushed out from 48 to 72 hours, which has improved the predictability of port operations. The phase I, II, and III terminals have adopted a new shared-stacking work model for adjacent docks to further improve the efficiency of container stack yards and trucks. 

While improving its operational and management capabilities, the port has also improved its overall service capacity. In 2022, SIPG will finish construction on the Shanghai Port empty container transportation center for the Northeast Asian region in Yangshan Port, built in conjunction with several international liner companies. "This is a brand new experiment. We are willing to work with other shipping companies to improve efficiency, strengthen container turnover, and resolve the seasonal shortages arising from the imbalance between the import and export of containers. At the same time, we are able to provide a full range of services, including container repair, washing, inspection and dispatch, to improve service levels at the Port of Shanghai," explains Chen Wei, assistant general manager of the production department of SIPG. 

Yangshan Port is also striving to promote green and low-carbon development of the port and shipping sector. On March 15, 2022, it became the first Chinese port to complete the ship-to-ship refueling of an international vessel with bonded LNG (liquefied natural gas), while simultaneously carrying out cargo operations. Yangshan Port is now one of the few ports in the world capable of providing ship-to-ship simultaneous LNG refueling services. This will make it more attractive for international dual-fuel ships to dock at Shanghai Port and boost the competitiveness of Shanghai as an international shipping hub. 

New tides in opening up 

In September 2021, SIPG officially opened its new port in Haifa, Israel, the first new terminal to open in the country for 60 years. The terminal replicates the technological highlights of Yangshan Phase IV, and marks the first time that a Chinese enterprise has exported "smart port" technology and management expertise to a developed country. 

SIPG plans to use the cooperative venture to better integrate its operations with the Belt and Road Initiative, developing the new Haifa port as an important hub for connecting Northeast Asia with the Middle East and Europe. 

From Yangshan to the world 

Managing a crucial part of the Port of Shanghai, people at Yangshan deeply understand the importance of openness and cooperation. In 2021, taking advantage of the policies of the Lin'gang New Area of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone, the port launched a new cargo relay pilot scheme. A more intelligent, more efficient, and greener Yangshan Port is helping propel the international shipping hub of Shanghai toward a more crucial role on the global stage. 

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 7, 2022)