By Xinhua writer Zhang Yongxing
SUVA, May 9 (Xinhua) -- Thanks to the construction and upgradation by a Chinese company, Fiji's Nabouwalu road, once dusty in the dry season and bogged down in the wet season, has now become a modern and high-quality highway.
"It has cut travel time dramatically from about five hours to around two hours. We are very happy the traffic is now very convenient and local people like me have really benefited from it," said Osea Raula, a 39-year-old local resident.
Raula had worked in the Nabouwalu project for two years; now he works in a farm along the Nabouwalu highway. He said he had learnt a lot from his Chinese fellow workers.
The 70 km highway connecting Labasa and Nabouwalu with 14 new bridges, along with another 30 km highway at the Buca Bay, was constructed and upgraded by China Railway First Group (Fiji) Co., Ltd (CRFG), a state-run enterprise of China.
The two projects, located in Vanua Levu, the second largest island in the northern part of the South Pacific island state, were completed respectively as scheduled between 2011 and 2015, with the concessional loans provided by the Chinese government.
The Nabouwalu highway is a major boost to shipping services between the country's two main islands, Raula said, adding that it has brought a lot of business opportunities and helped grow Fiji's economy.
"China is our true and real good friend. I miss my Chinese friends. I want to say Bula (Hello), China and Vinaka Vakalevu (Thank you very much)," he said emotionally.
According to Wang Gang, deputy manager of the CRFG, the two projects used about 2,000 Fijian workers.
"We are very glad that we can do something to help Fiji promote its highway network in the northern island and make contributions to the local economy," Wang said proudly while pointing to the heavy traffic on the Nabouwalu highway.
In the process of the construction and upgrading, the company took into account such factors as geology, environment, humidity, flood and tide. "We are proud of having finished the projects in time after overcoming a lot of difficulties," Wang said.
Umesh Prasad, 49, manager of the Labasa-based Vinod Patel, a retail chain for selling home and building materials, told Xinhua that in Labasa, everyone has been talking about the new road as it definitely has made local people's travel more convenient, rapid and comfortable and has given a big boost to the local business.
"The businesses here in the city have really benefited from this new road as CRFG had helped create more job opportunities for local people," he said, adding, "I also believe that the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative is a good thing for the developing countries like Fiji. It is just like the new road that will provide many business chances for all of us."
Proposed by China in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, aiming at building a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient trade routes of Silk Road.
Luigi Giuliani, a 78-year-old Italian, married a Fijian woman and has operated the La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life ) Holiday Villas along the Buca Bay highway since 2001.
Giuliani, who said he is from the home country of Marco Polo and has visited China for three times, spoke highly of the CRFG for building the Buca Bay road.
"Just before the opening of this road, the traffic depended on the weather. We just could see three or four vehicles per day, but now we can see three or four vehicles per minute," he said, adding that it not only benefits the whole community, but also opens up this part of the island to the extent. "It is unbelievable, a miracle."
"Now I have more guests than ever before. They are from different parts of the world. My villas are now full until the end of June, and I believe my guests will keep on coming in the rest of the year. I really want to thank CRFG for building this road, it is a good job," he said.
China has become a household name in Fiji. Even for Sepa Noya, a five-year-old boy who walked along the Nabouwalu road with one of his friends, told Xinhua that he knew this road was built by China. "It is good. Bula, China," he said with a smile on his thin and boyish face.
Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama attended the opening ceremony of the Nabouwalu project, saying that "our national highways are quickly becoming a source of national pride. A modern road network is being formed before our eyes that will benefit every Fijian."
The prime minister voiced his support for the Belt and Road Initiative,
Wang Gang said that China's experience is that "to be rich, one has to build road first." China and Fiji forged a strategic partnership based on mutual respect and common development in 2014, lifting bilateral relations to a new height.
"I do believe under the guidance of the (Belt and Road) Initiative and with the joint efforts of both sides ... the road to common development will be even wider," he said.