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China rushes railway feasibility study team, reopens border trade after communist parties assumed office in Nepal

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(TibetanReview.net, Dec29’22) – A day after Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal took his oath of office, a six-member Chinese technical team landed in Kathmandu on Dec 27 to carry out a feasibility study of the planned Nepal-Tibet cross-border railway. On the same day, eight containers were exported to China through the long-closed Rasuwagadhi border crossing.

Exports from Nepal had been stalled for about 35 months, with China citing Covid-19 restrictions in occupied Tibet as the reason and media reports in Nepal questioning that justification and seeing political and geopolitical elements in it.

Narayan Prasad Bhandari, Chief Customs Officer of Rasuwa Customs Office, has told the kathmandupost.com Dec 27 that goods worth around Rs 5 million were exported that day.

Dahal, alias Prachanda, the CPN (Maoist Centre) chairman, heads a coalition of the two biggest leftist parties (the other being UML) of Nepal and others, which China had worked hard to achieve.

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The railway, a part of Beijing’s transnational Belt and Road Initiative project, aims to link Gyirong (or Kerung) county in southern Tibet to Nepalese capital Kathmandu and has been in the works since 2016.

Construction for the project was expected to start by 2021, but its fate has been left uncertain by a number of factors, including environmental concerns and regional geopolitics, topped by the Covid-19 pandemic, noted the scmp.com Dec 28.

The project faces several significant hurdles. Firstly, there are questions about domestic political support in Nepal, which were also raised when former prime minister KP Sharma Oli (from the UML), who backed the project and was seen as favouring stronger ties with China, was ousted – with the more “pro-Indian” Sher Bahadur Deuba taking over the reins last year, the report noted.

The team’s arrival followed Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Nepal in August, during which he said officials from both sides had agreed to fast track a feasibility study for the construction of the Tibet-Nepal railway.

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Secondly, funding for the project remains a major issue. But for now, the feasibility study, which is estimated to cost around Rs3.4 billion (180.47 million RMB). is being funded by China under its grant assistance fund stipulated in the Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation between the governments of Nepal and China signed on Aug 15, 2017.

However, the two countries have yet to agree on how to fund the construction of the railway, noted the kathmandupost.com Dec 27.

A pre-feasibility study estimated that the project will cost more than $3 billion. The Chinese side has proposed to fund the construction through loan. But fears remain in Nepal that taking out such a big loan without a cost-benefit analysis would be highly risky.

The report said that the China Railway First Survey and Design Institute Group had in 2018 prepared technical details for the Kathmandu-Kerung railway line and later conducted the pre-feasibility study.

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The Kerung-Kathmandu railway will be part of the 550-km railroad connecting the Tibetan city of Shigatse with Kerung near the Nepal-Tibet border. Although just 75-km long, construction of the Kerung-Kathmandu section will cost over $3 billion due to difficult geophysical terrains and other complexities, the pre-feasibility study was stated to show.

The study expected complicated geological terrain and laborious engineering workload to be the most significant obstacles to building a cross-border railway. The line, which will pass through rugged high mountains, would involve orchestrating complex construction plans—raising questions, thirdly, about the viability of Nepal’s most hyped infrastructure project, the report said.

Because of the geographical challenges, the feasibility study is expected to take around 3.5 years, after which the total investment for this project will be determined, reported the laprensalatina.com Dec 27, citing Nepal’s Railways Department spokesperson Aman Chitrakar.

The pre-feasibility study of 2016 was stated to show that the total length of the line will be 599.41 km (372.5 miles), with a 527.16 km section falling in Chinese occupied Tibet and 72.25 km in Nepal. Bedsides, the section from Kerung in Tibet to Kathmandu will be 170.41 km long.

Nepal looks for the project to improve its connectivity with its northern neighbour, and ending its over-dependence on India.


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