China reiterates support for overdue strategic Tibet-Nepal rail project having little practical use

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Tibet-Kathmandu railway.

(TibetanReview.net, Dec10’21) – Though one of the 20 bilateral deals signed during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s official visit to Nepal in 2019, even the proposed feasibility study of the US$8 billion cross-border railway – from Shigatse (or Xigaze), in south Tibet to Nepal’s capital Kathmandu – has not yet been undertaken. On Dec 8, Foreign Minister Wang Yi renewed his country’s pledge to support the project, which is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), reported the scmp.com Dec 10.

The report cited experts as saying the two sides renewed support for the project – stalled by engineering and environmental challenges – was clearly targeted at India’s dominance over its smaller northern neighbour.

Addressing an International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction, Wang has also pledged continued Chinese support for rebuilding the country after the devastating earthquake of 2015 and urged closer cooperation under the BRI.

“China will make solid progress in the feasibility study of a cross-border railway project, improve the trans-Himalayan multidimensional connectivity network, and help Nepal realise its dream of changing from a ‘landlocked country’ to a ‘land-linked country’,” Wang has told the conference via video link.

He has also called for deeper BRI cooperation on issues ranging from trade, investment and energy supplies to infrastructure and climate change, to help the Himalayan nation with its economic recovery.

The project is seen as a bit of a dilemma to China, while Nepal is eager for it, with China’s help. The report cited Professor Madhav Nalapat, vice-chair of the Manipal Advanced Research Group, as saying the problem with the railway was that, while it had strategic value, it would have limited practical use as there was a lack of demand for trade on the route.

“Nor will there be much passenger demand,” Nalapat has said. “Hence the view of many in India that the actual purpose of the railway is to speed up the entry of troops from China into Nepal [which borders India].”

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