Hong Kong’s long-running status as one of world’s biggest international container ports is under threat. Once the world’s busiest port, it now faces dropping out of the top five because of stalled growth amid the Sino-American trade war.

The latest threat to the former colony comes from Nansha Port on the Guangzhou coast, which looks set to secure a place in the world’s top five, thanks to an aggressive marketing push and plans for a major upgrade.

According to Sing Tao Daily, the Guangzhou government now offers a 3 million yuan (US$460,000) incentive to foreign shippers whose throughput at Nansha exceeds 10,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs).

In addition, logistics companies with throughput exceeding one million TEUs will be entitled to 20 million yuan (US$3.77 million) if they set up a regional headquarters in Nansha. Other giants in the world’s top 1,000 shipping companies or top 50 domestic companies will also be eligible for bonuses if they set up in Nansha.

The marketing drive is part of Guangdong’s latest push to join the world’s top five ports, as detailed in a three-year plan. In it, they want to see Guangzhou become an international shipping centre with annual throughput exceeding 25 million TEUs by 2020.

Nansha recently ranked No.7 behind Shanghai and Singapore in container business while it also trailed Shenzhen (No. 3) and Hong Kong (No.5) in the Greater Bay Area.

Nansha is centered strategically in the Greater Bay Area, where Beijing wants to from a southern powerhouse from nine provinces and two cities that will compare favorably with San Francisco and Tokyo.

The throughout for Nan Sha in the first four months of the year went up 9.3% to 6.72 million TEUs. By contrast, Hong Kong was down 2.8% to 6.49 million TEUs, thanks to a slowdown in entrepôt, or transshipment business.

Despite an optimistic Hong Kong Trade Development Council second quarter export index that marked a seven-year high of 54.1, the decline in container throughput in Hong Kong is likely to continue in the wake of trade tension between China and United States.

Nansha’s determination to grow is further illustrated in a recent development plan that spells out a 100 billion yuan infrastructure and facilities upgrade.