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Feature: Transport connectivity with China to help speed up Vietnam's economic development

by Nguyen Thi Thuy Anh, Zhang Jianhua

HANOI, April 13 (Xinhua) -- In early April in northern Vietnam, cargo trucks fully loaded with fertilizer, building materials and rice, among other things, constantly flowed back and forth along the Noi Bai-Lao Cai expressway connecting Vietnam's capital Hanoi and the border province with China.

The newly-constructed expressway facilitated increasing trade exchanges between China and Vietnam, and boosted economic vitality in Vietnam's northern region.

In September 2014, Vietnam's longest and most modernized expressway at 245 kilometers in length, connecting Noi Bai in Hanoi and northwestern Lao Cai province bordering China, officially opened to traffic.

This is part of the China's Kunming-Vietnam's Hai Phong Transport Corridor and belongs to the Greater Mekong Subregion ( GMS) cooperation program connecting Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and China.

Speaking at the inaugural ceremony of the expressway, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said Noi Bai-Lao Cai expressway is of great significance in socio-economic development not only for the provinces where it runs through, but also for the northwestern region and the whole country, as well as for cooperation among GMS countries.

With the completion of the project, the travel time between Hanoi and Lao Cai has been reduced significantly from between 10 and 12 hours to between 3 and 4 hours.

Asian Development Bank (ADB) Country Director for Vietnam Tomoyuki Kimura said in addition to the project's significant impacts on Vietnam's own national development, that the project is one of ADB key projects in the GMS program.

"We believe that Noi Bai-Lao Cai expressway will contribute to further facilitating bilateral trade between Vietnam and China and turning the existing GMS transport corridor into a real economic corridor," said the ADB official at the inaugural ceremony in 2014.

With construction starting in 2009, the Noi Bai-Lao Cai expressway runs from Noi Bai through provinces of Vinh Phuc, Phu Tho, Yen Bai to Lao Cai with a total investment of over 1.46 billion U.S. dollars, including around 1 billion U.S. dollars in loans from the ADB. Chinese companies won part of the bid to take part in the construction process.

According to statistics from Vietnam Expressway Corporation's Operation and Maintenance Company, within one month after the Noi Bai-Lao Cai expressway was opened to traffic, total vehicle travel on the expressway reached 200,000 vehicles, an average of 8,000 vehicles per day and night and toll revenue reached 35.5 billion Vietnamese dong (more than 1.66 million U.S. dollars).

During the month, up to 96 percent of transport firms said traveling on the expressway is effective, saving 20-30 percent of fuel compared to the old route.

Hoang Ngoc, director of Hoang Ha transport company in Hanoi, told local media that with the old route, one container traveling from Hai Phong to Lao Cai consumes over 300 liters of oil, while it costs only 245 liters of oil traveling on the new route.

Meanwhile, Pham Xuan Kien, a truck driver who engages in cargo transport between Vietnam and China, told Xinhua in early April that he can save nearly 30 percent of fuel traveling on the Noi Bai-Lao Cai expressway.

"If the loading goes smoothly, I can depart from Hanoi to Lao Cai in early morning and head back at night on the same day. Earlier, when traveling on the old route, I had to stay overnight in Lao Cai," Kien said.

"I heard that Vietnam and China are discussing the construction of Hanoi-Pingxiang and Ha Long-Dongxing highways. If the two countries can really make it happen, drivers like me will be more relaxed and cargo flows between the two countries will be increased," Kien said.

Drivers are those who directly feel the benefit of transport connectivity between China and Vietnam, including shortened travel time and improved transport conditions.

Transport connectivity has proved to help facilitating trade relations between the two countries, and also promoting the infrastructure development in northern Vietnam.

Regarding this, according to a statement issued during the visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to Vietnam earlier in 2013, the two countries vowed to implement the Five-Year Plan for the Development of China-Vietnam Economic and Trade Cooperation in the 2012-2016 period, involving major cooperative projects.

Both sides agreed to reach a consensus as soon as possible on a plan to implement and finance the Pingxiang-Hanoi highway project and actively push for the Dongxing-Ha Long highway project, and initiate feasibility studies on the Lao Cai-Hanoi railway project, the statement said.

In April this year, during the visit of General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong to China, the two sides issued a joint communique which stated that they agreed to boost infrastructure connectivity projects to facilitate stronger trade ties.

During Trong's visit, the two sides declared to officially establish a working group on infrastructure cooperation as well as a working group on finance and currency cooperation.

The Vietnamese party chief also said his country is studying on the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative.

Le Hong Hiep, visiting fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, told Xinhua recently that China's 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative brings new opportunities for trade and investments to maritime countries along the Indo-Pacific rim.

"In particular, Chinese investments in port facilities will help improve the infrastructures of these countries. China's investments are welcome because there's an increasing demand for investment in infrastructure that current financial institutions such as the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank alone cannot meet," Hiep said.

"The improvement of port facilities along the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road will boost international trade in general and trade between countries along the road in the long run," Hiep added.

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