A Road of Friendship for the APEC Dream

By Hu Yifeng
[Papua New Guinea] Gorethy Kenneth

November 16, 2018 was a red-letter day for Papua New Guinea (PNG). The newly-built six-lane boulevard in the capital, Port Moresby, was the cause of the celebrations. On this day the Independence Boulevard project, built and financed by China, was officially handed over to the PNG authorities.

For the handover ceremony, the boulevard was festooned with vivid red Chinese knots while thousands of people from the different tribes of PNG, dressed in their colorful traditional clothes, gathered there, waving the national flag and dancing in joy.

PNG's Dream of Integration

The PNG government and people attached so much importance to the 1.06-kilometer-long road because it was part of the national image and would help PNG host a major APEC meeting. That would take the island state closer to integrating with the global economy.

The bird of paradise, the national bird of Papua New Guinea

PNG is the largest, most populous and resource-rich country among the Pacific island states, with more than 600 islands, over 800 local languages and thousands of tribes.

PNG became an independent country in 1975 and joined the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in 1987. However, O’Neill admitted in a media interview that although PNG has been an APEC member for many years, some APEC members still did not know much about the country. He said PNG would like to have an opportunity to let other members know it better.

The APEC Economic Leaders’ Meetings are hosted by the member countries in turn, which is also a good opportunity for the other members to know more about the host country and its economy. PNG had been asked to host a meeting before but due to domestic constraints it was unable to do so.

In 2018, it was again PNG’s turn to host the APEC leaders’ meeting and the government decided to seize the opportunity. However, it was not going to be an easy job. Port Moresby was still being upgraded. There were few roads in the urban areas, and the existing roads were in poor condition.

The hand-over ceremony for the Independence Boulevard project

To prepare for the APEC leaders’ meeting, the PNG government decided to upgrade a number of roads in Port Moresby, and to build the Independence Boulevard, which would connect the Parliament House building with municipal trunk roads. The Airport Expressway was to be renovated so that the guests arriving from other countries would have a good first impression. The Independence Boulevard was to be the venue of the welcoming ceremonies during the APEC meeting. After the meeting was over, it would not only serve as a major road, but also as an important venue for welcoming ceremonies, military parades and other national celebrations. Its importance was self-evident because it had to do with the country’s image.

In October 2017, the PNG government contacted the Chinese embassy to seek the Chinese government’s assistance in building the Independence Boulevard and renovating the Airport Expressway. After several rounds of discussions, the two governments signed a memorandum of understanding in January 2018, with less than a year left for the APEC meeting. As a project supporting the APEC meeting, the two roads would have to be put into use before the meeting.

Road of Friendship Built in 205 Days

The Independence Boulevard and Airport Expressway project had to be completed in time because they were key measures to realize PNG’s dream of global integration. The short time available and the arduous tasks that needed to be done were tough challenges.

The Independence Boulevard

China Harbour Engineering Co., Ltd. (CHEC) had had seven years of work experience in PNG with a good reputation for its brand and capability, which made it suitable to execute this emergency assistance program.

It was a race against time. Though only a little over 1 kilometer, Independence Boulevard was going to be six lanes wide with a 100-millimeter-thick blacktopped pavement, the road built with the highest standard in PNG. The renovation of the Airport Expressway would cut across the urban district of Port Moresby. It entailed building new sections as well as a blacktopped pavement for the original sections.

Organizing the work of thousands of workers from two different countries at multiple sites meant a lot of pressure for materials supply and security. In spite of that, the project management team set quality as the goal for all participants. The construction quality of each section was strictly controlled, from material procurement to construction methods and implementation.

Builders from both PNG and China worked under great pressure to accomplish the tasks in seven months. Senior PNG officials, including the Governor of the National Capital District, Minister of Engineering, Minister of APEC Affairs and Mayor of Port Moresby visited the sites, all expressing their satisfaction with the progress of the work.

It took only 205 days to complete the entire Independence Boulevard. It was an impressive example of the “China speed”.

With the joint efforts of more than 2,000 builders from the two countries, this road of friendship was built and opened to traffic ahead of schedule.

The APEC meeting took place in PNG as scheduled. Papuans dressed in their traditional finery sang and performed traditional dances to welcome the guests from different parts of the world. The wide and smooth Independence Boulevard and the newly-renovated Airport Expressway enhanced the national image of PNG.

A Herald of Economic Development

The roads contributed to the success of the APEC meeting and subsequently, have provided more convenient transportation for the Papuans. They are also a strong support for the future economic development of PNG.

The Independence Boulevard has become a trunk road as well as a favorite scenic spot. In the mornings and evenings, people come here for strolls and photographs. The governor of the National Capital District had predicted that the opening of the Independence Boulevard, a landmark event, would benefit Papuans for decades. The prediction has come true.

The renovated Airport Expressway has also changed people’s lives. The road connects the capital’s Jacksons International Airport with the Central Business District. Thousands of people use it to commute to work every day. This traffic artery, once in disrepair, has become a boost for economic and social development.

In the past, Luya, a Papuan, had to spend more than three hours a day commuting to and from work by bus as the road was heavily congested. There were frequent traffic accidents due to its bad condition.

Now, it takes Luya only half an hour to travel from home to work. The road is no longer congested, and the bus journey has become pleasant. “Thank you, China! I can now spend more time with my family,” Luya said, giving a thumbs-up.

For Thomas, a bus driver on this route, improved traffic means a higher income. In PNG, buses are the main means of transport. In the past, with the heavy traffic on the road, it took Thomas two hours to make the trip from his village to the city center, and he could make maximum two round trips a day.

Now, it takes three hours for a round trip, which means he can make three or four such trips every day. There are many other bus drivers like Thomas in Port Moresby. The renovation of the Airport Expressway has brought them new hope.

A Pool of Technical Professionals

When the projects started, the local employees were given technical training.

Daniel is one of them. In the past, he didn’t have any professional skill and had to look for casual work every day. The meager money he made was barely enough for his family with three children.

The training has made him a skilled worker, earning a higher and steadier income. He has managed to buy land and build a house on the outskirts of Port Moresby.

To develop local civil engineering professionals with advanced engineering knowledge, CHEC sponsored three PNG students’ education in China’s Hohai University.

There’s a popular saying in China, “If you want to get rich, build a road first.” The Independence Boulevard and the Airport Expressway show how infrastructure leads to economic development.


Project Overview

The PNG road project financed and built by China consists of the construction of the Independence Boulevard and renovation of the Airport Expressway. It is a major foreign assistance project of the Chinese government and a supporting project for the 26th APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in PNG. China Harbour Engineering Co., Ltd. implemented the project.

The Independence Boulevard is a six-lane boulevard in front of the International Convention Center and Parliament House building in Port Moresby. It is 1.06 kilometers long, with a designed speed of 50 kilometers per hour. The Airport Expressway is the main road taken in and out of Port Moresby by the government delegations to the APEC meeting. The project involved renovating an 8.44-kilometer section of the road.

The work kicked off in April 2018 with a seven-month deadline and was completed five days ahead of schedule. The roads have greatly eased the congestion in Port Moresby.