Decimated Toyota cars, mangled cargo containers: Tianjin blast forces companies to suspend operations – by Erika Kinetz (Associated Press/National Post – August 18, 2015)

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SHANGHAI — Foreign companies have suspended operations around the Tianjin port as officials scramble to contain the toxic fallout of last week’s deadly chemical explosions, which dealt a blow to northern China’s emerging economic hub.

Toyota said over half its China production capacity would be offline at least through Wednesday. The company has operations near the blast evacuation zone and said Monday that it had suspended three production lines, which can produce 530,000 vehicles a year.

Thousands of Volkswagen, Toyota, Hyundai and Renault cars, mostly pricey imports, parked on lots near the blast were decimated.

The operations of Panasonic, logistics company Singamas Container Holdings and, reportedly, Deere & Co. have also been disrupted.

The list of name-brand companies impacted by the blast is a testament to Tianjin’s rise, but regulatory and safety lapses at the hazardous goods warehouses that exploded have drawn attention to the sometimes shaky infrastructure China has laid down as it pursues ultra-fast growth.

The port lies at the heart of one of China’s new free trade zones, designed to draw foreign investment and create an economic hub for China’s northeast that could one day rival the Pearl and Yangtze river deltas. The broader Binhai New Area has long been on the radar of Beijing’s technocrats, who hope to integrate Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei into a single, thrumming economic powerhouse.

“This wasn’t just an incident in some third-rate city. It was right at the heart of everything,” said Chet Scheltema, regional manager at international business consultancy Dezan Shira & Associates, who has lived and worked in Tianjin.

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