The success story of the Xinghua Group

A Calculated Plunge

In the early 1990s, Mr Ng Kar Cheong, the founder of Singapore company Pan-United Corporation Ltd (PanU), made a calculated plunge into uncharted waters in Changshu. The Chinese city was then an underdeveloped county scouting for foreign investors. Mr Ng walked along the shoreline and took just 30 minutes to spot the potential in a cotton field alongside the Changjiang (Yangtze) River Delta.

One man’s foresight

The local government was hoping to build a coal terminal. Mr Ng counter-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 PRC was low. Many Changjiang River ports were making losses. There were also limited domestic and foreign investments in ports. Changshu was without an international port, and that had impeded its growth while 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 green field 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 rst vessels in 1997, the same year that the Asian nancial crisis broke out. It was not the most ideal start. But like the ancient Chinese game of Go or weiqi (围棋), where opportunity arises out of challenge, their perseverance, discipline and determination paid off. Business improved and turned the corner.

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.

(From left) Patrick Ng, Ch’ng Jit Koon and Ng Kar Cheong with the late Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew during the event.

Camaraderie and perseverance pay off

In 2014, volumes swelled to more than 10.0 million tonnes and over 90,000 TEUs. 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 Singapore’s then-Minister Mentor, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

In 2014, a smaller port next door, called Changshu Changjiang International Port Co Ltd (CCIP), was acquired. With a total land area of 1.36 sq km, it became one of China’s largest dry bulk river ports. The integration of the two ports led to further expansion of the cargo mix. Operational synergies enabled the Xinghua Port Group to optimise berth allocation and diversify its customer base. Within a year, the loss-making CCIP became pro table.

The timely acquisition of CCIP enhanced the resilience of Xinghua as a highly ef cient logistics hub port. Today, Xinghua serves as both an international port for ocean-going vessels and a transshipment hub for river vessels calling at cities along the vast Changjiang River.

Patrick Ng - Chairman, Xinghua Port Holdings

“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
Chairman, Xinghua Port Holdings

Wang Jiankang, Changshu Mayor, 2004

“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

Tang Weixuan - Former Changshu City Mayor, 2004

“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 City Mayor, 2004

Bao Yongquan - Former GM of Changshu Economic Development Group Co Ltd, 2004

“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