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China to conduct Nepal-Tibet railway feasibility study, but it’s not clear who will pay to build it

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(TibetanReview.net, Aug16’22) – A plan to build a Keyrung-Kathmandu Railway to connect Chinese ruled Tibet with Nepal has been a topic of discussion between Beijing and Kathmandu for many years, but has not progressed beyond successive agreements to conduct a feasibility study since 2018. Will the latest agreement reached just recently during Nepal’s Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka’s visit to China finally lead to such a study being carried out?

Nepal has in the past been reported to seek Chinese grant or at least assistance for the project due to the fear of falling into a debt trap otherwise. But China was reported to favour Nepal taking a Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects loan from it, which entails a high interest rate and is known to have debt-trapped countries.

In Jun 2018, when the then Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli of Nepal visited China, an agreement was signed between the two countries regarding railway connectivity cooperation. Under it, the two countries agreed to proceed with pre-feasibility study with a Chinese grant for the implementation of the trans-Himalayan railway project, noted the myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com Aug 13.

Similarly, when the Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Nepal in 2019, an agreement was signed on the feasibility study of Nepal-China cross-border railway construction.

And when the Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councilor Wang Yi visited Nepal last March, a technical agreement was signed again between the two countries regarding the feasibility study with Chinese assistance for the cross-border railway project, the report continued.

And during the just recently concluded visit of Nepal’s Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka to China, an agreement was reached with his Chinese counterpart Wang to again carry out the feasibility study on the international railway project with Chinese assistance. And the cost would bet met from the 15 billion (800 million RMB) China agreed to provide to Nepal for the year 2022 to expedite development projects it supports there, said a myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com report Aug 11.

As part of the agreement, China will finance the feasibility study for the China-Nepal cross-border railway and will send experts to Nepal to conduct surveys this year, reported China’s official chinadaily.com.cn Aug 14. The report denied allegations that Beijing deb-traps countries with loans for projects the latter cannot afford.

According to the Nepal’s Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport (MoPIT), the pre-feasibility study on the international railway project has been completed already. “At present, it is not clear who would invest in the railway at first. Therefore, the study could not proceed forward. China announced that it will assist in the feasibility study only recently,” another myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com Aug 13, quoted an official at the ministry as saying.

The report cited infrastructure expert Dr Suryaraj Acharya as saying that due to the fluctuations in relation with China after the formation of the current government and the Covid-19 pandemic, the work of feasibility study may have been delayed.

It is estimated that over 90% of the planned railway, which will go through the highest mountain range on Earth and cross the borders of two continental plates, will be built on bridges or in tunnels, and construction cost per kilometre will be about $30 million, said the chinadaily.com.cn report.

The Nepal section of the railway is said to be 72km long, so the estimated cost could be US$2.16 billion.

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