By ELIZABETH HAYES

Staff Reporter

Among the plum local operations thriving as a result of the huge and growing volume of trade with China, probably none is juicier than the China Ocean Shipping Co.

And that has mouths watering among L.A. and Long Beach city officials.

Beijing-based Cosco, which is owned and operated by the government of the People's Republic of China, has operated an 80-acre cargo terminal at the Port of Long Beach since 1981.

But it is rapidly outgrowing its Long Beach terminal and has been looking to expand. Those efforts thus far have been frustrated by opposition to the Port of Long Beach's plan to build a new, larger terminal for Cosco on an abandoned Navy base.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles city officials are using the logjam in Long Beach as an opening to woo the Chinese shipping behemoth to a new terminal being built at San Pedro. A contingent of L.A. officials left late last week on an Asian trade mission, during which they plan to visit Cosco officials in Beijing.

The factor that determines where Cosco will ultimately put its L.A.-area terminal may not be size, terms of a lease agreement, or the terminal completion date. It may boil down to relationships, port officials say.

"In the Chinese culture, long-term relationships are valued. They value our relationship and they know we've stood by them and will continue to do so as long as there's any hope of expanding in Long Beach," said Yvonne Avila, spokeswoman for the Port of Long Beach. "I think they'd like to stay in Long Beach."

Rocky Delgadillo, L.A. deputy mayor for economic development, agreed that Cosco officials' reluctance to leave Long Beach is at least partially due to their cultural attitudes about "saving face" by maintaining long-term relationships.

But lawsuits by preservationists and two neighboring cities, and opposition from environmentalists and right-wing politicians, have waylaid plans for a new $200 million terminal at the shuttered Long Beach Naval Station.

L.A. officials are making no secret of their desire to win Cosco.

"We've got some facilities that would really please them," said Larry Keller, executive director of the Port of L.A. In particular, the seaport is in the midst of a major capital improvement program, including the $600 million Pier 400, which will be the largest terminal complex in North America.

Cosco officials in Beijing, Los Angeles, Long Beach and New Jersey could not be reached for comment on the company's plans for its L.A.-area operations.

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