Highway helps build careers and countries

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The Vientiane-Vangvieng section of the China-Laos expressway will be opening soon. [Photo provided to CHINA DAILY]

Work on BRI link between China and Laos puts opportunities on fast track

It's been a remarkable transformation for a Laotian graduate fresh out of college to a career as a fully fledged professional translator in just two years. That's the path taken by A Lin, now 28, thanks to opportunities arising from a China-backed construction project in his country.

For someone at the start of a career, his first job has been different from the openings that other young Laotians seek out. He was working on the first phase of the China-Laos expressway, also known as the Vientiane-Vangvieng highway, which has now been completed. Preparations are underway for its imminent opening.

The China-Laos expressway stretches from the Laotian capital Vientiane to the border town of Boten, about 440 kilometers away. Chinese technical construction and operating standards have been used on the project, and are being implemented in four phases.

Construction on the Vientiane-Vangvieng section of the expressway-a key part of the Belt and Road Initiative-began on Dec 30,2018. The works were undertaken by Yunnan Construction and Investment Holding Group, or YCIH, which is also an investor in the project. When it opens it will become the first expressway in the country.

Built at a cost of 8.9 billion yuan ($1.3 billion), the 111-km section will better connect the two cities in Laos, boosting the prospects for exchanges between people in dramatically improving their transport options.

"It used to take locals in Vangvieng at least four hours to get to Vientiane, and the new highway will cut that to just one and a half hours," said Li Hongjie, the manager of the project.

For locals, what the project brings is far more than convenience. More than 2,400 of them have worked on the highway's construction, about half of the total work force.

Apart from those directly involved in construction, local people also work as translators and interpreters, as with A Lin.

He graduated from Guangxi University for Nationalities in 2018 and joined YCIH in October that year when the project was in the preparation stage.

Role seen as a bridge

"I'm really happy with the way things have gone," said A Lin, describing himself as a bridge between the Chinese company and his compatriots.

"In just two years I've advanced from a greenhorn college student with little idea about a career to becoming a skilled translator.

"My family gave me money every month when I was in the college, but now I can support them."

Of the local employees, more than 80 percent are on-site builders. To better familiarize and equip Laotians with building technology, the company set up a training program before construction work began.

Li said: "For example, we (experienced Chinese engineers) would make a sample with building materials on site and then discuss with local workers on how to perfect it to meet construction standards."

With that training under their belts, local construction workers have been able to expand their technical capabilities and hone their skills.

"Laotians have been critical to the highway's construction," Li said. "What they have done has been invaluable."

Many local contractors, including equipment leaseholders and material suppliers, have also benefited from the project. And, for most of them, it is the first time that they have been involved in building a road to such demanding standards.

A local contractor responsible for building about five kilometers of roadbed said the company's engineering and construction techniques have improved thanks to the close collaboration with YCIH.

As with businesses the world over, YCIH has had to grapple with the consequences of the pandemic-the first of these being when construction was disrupted after the coronavirus appeared early this year.

The company quickly introduced a series of anti-epidemic measures. By July more than 200 construction managers had returned to Laos on chartered flights, guaranteeing the project was not hampered unduly by the pandemic.

In addition, the company helped Laotians fight the outbreak there. On April 28, it donated 500 million Laotian kip (about $54,000) to help the country combat the pandemic.

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