Empty Shipping Containers Pile Up in Chinese Ports as China’s Exports Continue to Decline
Empty Shipping Containers Pile Up in Chinese Ports as China’s Exports Continue to Decline

By Alex Wu

Empty shipping containers used for export have been piling up in Shanghai, Ningbo, Guangdong, and other major Chinese ports since December, as China’s foreign trade continues to decline.

The latest data from ContainerxChange, a global container trading platform, shows that in the sixth week of 2023 (February 5–11), the CAx (Container Availability Index) of Shanghai Port’s 40-foot container reached 0.64, and has remained above 0.6 for 11 consecutive weeks.

According to the definition of ContainerxChange, if CAx exceeds 0.5, it indicates that the port has a surplus of containers while less than 0.5 indicates that there is a shortage of containers.

Aerial view of shipping containers sitting stacked at Yangshan Deepwater Port in Shanghai, China, on May 19, 2021. (Shen Chunchen/VCG via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, several mainland Chinese media have recently revealed that there are more than four layers of containers stacked together at the third container terminal in Beilun of Ningbo, all of which are empty. Empty containers are piled up to 6 or 7 stories high at various terminals in the Waigaoqiao Port Area of Shanghai Port. Workers at Shanghai dock told the media that the empty containers have piled up to eight stories high, and that there are also a large number of empty containers in the Yangshan Deepwater Port Area. Yantian Port in Guangdong has a record number of empty containers, stacked up to seven layers high, since the opening of the port 29 years ago.

Foreign Shipping Drops by More Than Half

Zhao Mingli (pseudonym), who used to do foreign trade business in the megacity of Shenzhen in south China, had to switch careers to real estate demolition. He told The Epoch Times that it used to be hard to find an empty container in Yantian Port, but now they are piled up like mountains. “This year is a cold winter for [China’s] foreign trade, and empty containers are returning to China from around the globe.”

Sun Xiaoning who works at a logistics company in Foshan in Guangdong Province, told The Epoch Times recently that many domestic companies have closed down, and the number of containers that his company transports have been reduced to one a month, while transportation capacity has been reduced by 50 percent compared to before.

This aerial photo shows cargo containers stacked at a port in Lianyungang in China’s eastern Jiangsu province on May 9, 2022. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Ma Yilin (pseudonym), who does Chinese container warehousing business in New Jersey, told The Epoch Times, “Those who are doing the same business that I know, their goods used to fill the warehouses, but now they are all empty and there isn’t any shipping containers [of goods],” adding that one of them who was doing freight between China and the United States “normally shipped 100 cabinets a month, but now it has dropped to below 50.”

Chen Ziyan has been doing freight transport from Guangdong to the United States for more than 20 years.

“At the best time, I (shipped) 15 containers a month, and now I do one or two containers a month,” he said, adding that he’s currently using his savings to keep his business running.

According to data from China Port Container Network, in the three months since December, the China Export Container Freight Index (CCFI) has continued to decline on all routes, and the composite index has decreased by 19.3 percent, 11.2 percent, and 8.5 percent month-on-month.

Impact on Other Industries

As the volume of container transportation has decreased, the transportation price has decreased accordingly, which has reduced the profits of those down the transportation chain, including transportation business owners and container truck drivers.

Trucks transport shipping containers at a dockyard in Qingdao in eastern China in this file photo taken on Sept. 25, 2020. (Chinatopix Via AP)

Mainland Chinese media outlet “Truck Home” reported in early March that the volume of truck transportation of shipping containers at Shanghai Port has dropped sharply, less than 80 percent of what it was before the pandemic, and the wages of truck drivers in Shanghai are declining overall.

On March 20, at a press conference, Yu Jianhua, director of the General Administration of Customs for the communist regime, addressed the problem of shipping containers piling up, saying that it was due to the low cost of domestic storage and seasonal effects. He added that the large number of empty containers “are ready to go,” and that it indicates the international market is still optimistic about China’s export capacity in the future.

Taiwanese financial expert Huang Shicong told The Epoch Times on March 21 that Yu’s statement was too optimistic. Although there are seasonal factors in container transportation, this year’s transportation ratio is particularly low, which shows that China’s current exports are worse than in previous years. Huang said that the official rhetoric consists of shouting slogans and creating momentum to “maintain stability” in China, but that the actual economic situation is not good.

According to data published by the regime’s General Administration of Customs on March 7, in the first two months of this year, the total value of trade between China and the United States was 702.98 billion yuan ($102 billion), a year-on-year decrease of 10.6 percent. Among them, exports to the United States were 494.11 billion yuan ($71.7 billion), a decrease of 15.2 percent. The United States is China’s largest export destination.

Due to the Chinese regime’s track record with regard to reporting its economic situation, many in the international community suspect that the situation is more serious than the regime has let on.

Xiao Lusheng, Chang Chun, and Yi Ru contributed to this report.

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