Richard Butler | Exclusive Report By ZHENGZHENG HUANG Of PEOPLE'S DAILY ONLINE, CHINA | 25TH DEC, 2023

The handover ceremony for the Vanuatu Malekula Road Phase II, constructed by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), took place on Dec. 18, 2023, on Malekula Island. Charlot Salwai, the prime minister of Vanuatu, said the new road signifies “a new level of partnership with China.”

Salwai described the conclusion of the second phase of the Malekula segment in the Vanuatu Road Project as “a very big development.” China’s assistance to Vanuatu has broadened its reach from urban centers to rural areas, simplifying market access for farmers and others engaged in agriculture. It has also improved local residents’ accessibility to education, healthcare, and various government services. Salwai said, “I think it’s a new level of partnership with China.”

He detailed the profound impact of this road, which cuts cross-island travel time from 2-3 hours to 30-40 minutes, significantly reducing transportation times for local agricultural products and boosting production capacity. Additionally, it has made it easier for students to commute to school and for individuals requiring urgent medical assistance, including pregnant women, to reach hospitals. Salwai conveyed his appreciation for China’s support.


Li Minggang, Chinese ambassador to Vanuatu, conveyed immense pride and joy in the efficient and high-caliber work accomplished by CCECC. Referencing the Chinese proverb, “Whoever wants to get rich, build a road first,” he portrayed this endeavor as a route out of poverty and a trajectory toward prosperity and hope. Li further expressed China’s readiness to share its modernization experience with its close friend Vanuatu, and assist it in embarking on the journey to modernization.

Endurance in adversity

In a conversation with People’s Daily Online, Li characterized CCECC as a “beautiful name card” in the South Pacific region. Acknowledging Vanuatu’s demanding climate, with road construction requiring extensive work on the ground amid temperatures of 40-50 degrees Celsius, he highlighted the substantial physical challenges involved. Despite these difficulties, Chinese engineers brought advanced technology and a commendable work ethic, fostering the bond between the two nations.

Beyond the temperature hurdles, the 32.181-kilometer road encountered various unique challenges during its construction. The scarcity of local materials on Malekula Island, including essential items like cement, asphalt, steel bars, and other bulk construction materials or fuel, as well as basic necessities like food and medicine, made it necessary for centralized procurement or imports from the capital, Port Vila. These supplies were then transported to the project site via a weekly ferry. Additionally, the abnormally long period of rainfall in Vanuatu from early 2020 to June 2021 had a considerable impact on the project’s progress.

Nevertheless, CCECC’s South Pacific Director, Liang Qing, affirmed that the project’s progress remained unaffected, achieving completion ahead of the initial schedule. He underscored the company’s seamless collaboration with the Vanuatu government, encompassing the punctual transport of epidemic prevention materials and construction resources, alongside flexible adjustments to work schedules to accommodate climatic variations.

“Heart-connecting road” enhances quality of life

The Chinese constructors’ efforts and capabilities did not go unnoticed by the local residents, so much so that they turned to CCECC first when they met any challenges. At the same time, the local community gave substantial support to CCECC. Liang explained that, in support of the project, community residents voluntarily lowered land rents, aided in identifying sources of raw materials along the route, and proactively addressed conflicts and misunderstandings within the community. These efforts went a long way to ensuring the project’s seamless progress, showcasing the local residents’ profound appreciation for the initiative.


A Malekula Island resident told People’s Daily Online how the road’s completion has profoundly transformed her daily life. Her shopping trips, which previously took three hours, now require a little over 10 minutes, enabling her to go more frequently. “We are hugely excited. We really love it because it’s the first time we receive this kind of road,” she said.

The road’s completion has not only significantly cut commuting time but also lowered travel expenses, fostering stronger connections among local communities and significantly enhancing residents’ quality of life.

Throughout the construction process, numerous job opportunities were generated along the route, with around 3,000 people employed in total, and boosting incomes. Liang provided an example, highlighting that many local workers, who initially resided in thatched houses, managed to build brick houses with the savings from their work on the project. He referred to this road, along with the Tanna Island road project, as the “heart-connecting road” symbolizing the friendship between the people of both nations.

Everlasting friendship between China and Vanuatu

Li emphasized that the relationship between China and Vanuatu consistently holds a leading position among Pacific island nations, sustaining amicable ties across diverse sectors, including infrastructure construction, education, technology training exchanges, cultural interactions, and humanitarian exchanges.

Following the completion of the handover ceremony, a signing ceremony for the second-phase upgrade of the Malekula Norsup Airport project was held. This project is funded by the Vanuatu government, with CCECC as the contractor.

Liang said that CCECC is committed to proactive collaboration with the Vanuatu government, actively involving itself in the nation’s development, implementing initiatives that generate value, and advocating or participating in a range of infrastructure projects.