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Geography and institutional change: insights from a container terminal operator

Abstract

The paper investigates the relationship between space and institutional change by studying the evolution and development of Hongkong International Terminals (HIT): a Hong Kong-based firm with a highly established institutional system, in the early 1990s. We investigate how HIT has made effective use of space to undertake organizational evolution, regional expansion, and finally establish itself as a global player in container terminal operations. Simultaneously, we illustrate how penetration across space has generated proactive forces that have fundamentally transformed HIT’s institutional system. The study offers insights to the dynamic relationship between space and institutional change.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The term was defined with reference to the definitions of ‘area,’ ‘space,’ and ‘outlet’ in the Oxford Dictionary of English (2nd Edition) (2010).

  2. 2.

    Hutchison Port Holdings (HPH) was formed in 1994, although HIT remained de facto decision-making institution of HPH.

  3. 3.

    For further details on neo-institutional theory and new institutional economics, see North (1990) and Williamson (2000), respectively.

  4. 4.

    Although Harvey explained space, including absolute space, in great detail, he focused on the physical components (e.g., housing, urban space) and did not explicitly mention institution as a non-physical absolute space.

  5. 5.

    Neoliberal policy-driven management and institutional reforms took place in many ports during the 1990s and 2000s. For further details, see Ng and Pallis (2010) and Sager (2011).

  6. 6.

    The next local expansion of HIT took place in 2003 when Container Terminal 9 (North) (CT9N) was added to its operation.

  7. 7.

    With more than a decade of the Open Door Policy and the clock ticking to 1997 (when Hong Kong would return to China), one would not deny the possibility of HIT’s desire to benefit from the increasingly close relationship formed between Hong Kong and Mainland China as a reason for its geographical expansion to Mainland China. However, in this study, we could not verify this point and thus it is subject to further research.

  8. 8.

    For example, according to the Marine Department of the Hong Kong SAR Government (2006), worldwide crane productivity ranged between 23 and 40 moves per hour (MPH), while the average crane rate of Hong Kong’s container terminals (including HIT) was persistent at around 36 MPH with peak rate at 40 MPH.

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Acknowledgements

The support of the Transport Institute of the University of Manitoba (UMTI) is gratefully acknowledged. The contents of this paper do not necessarily reflect the views of HIT and Hutchison Ports. An earlier version of the paper was presented at the 1st World Transport Convention (WTC) in Beijing, China, 4–6 June 2017. We would like to thank Prof. Ying-En Ge, Shanghai Maritime University, the reviewers, and all other colleagues for their valuable opinions in enhancing the quality of the paper.

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Correspondence to Adolf K. Y. Ng.

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Ng, A.K.Y., Wong, K., Shou, E.C. et al. Geography and institutional change: insights from a container terminal operator. Marit Econ Logist 21, 334–352 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41278-018-0103-2

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Keywords

  • Port
  • Geography
  • Institutional change
  • Spatial outlet
  • Hong Kong
  • China