China has announced it will accelerate plans to expand a railway network in Tibet to reach two towns near the border with India and will also consider building a railway line to Nepal, officials said this week.
New railway lines from Lhasa to Xigaze (Shigatse in Tibetan) and the town of Nyingchi, which lies in a prefecture bordering Arunachal Pradesh, will be built as key projects under a five-year development plan (2011-15) for the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), which was announced on Wednesday.
Separately, the State-run Xinhua news agency carried a report indicating that the construction of a railway line from Tibet to Nepal was discussed during Premier Wen Jiabao's visit last week to Kathmandu.
“The railway which will join Nepal and the Tibet Autonomous Region of China will further strengthen ties between the two countries,” Xinhua quoted Nepal President Ram Baran Yadav as saying.
The projects will widen the asymmetry in infrastructure across the Himalayas. Jin Shixun, chief of the TAR development and reform commission, said in a statement the railway projects would “pay a vital role in boosting tourism and accelerating the transport of natural resources”.
Chinese officials say the projects are aimed at boosting connectivity to bring development to Tibet's frontier regions. Indian defence officials have, however, voiced concern over the strategic implications of infrastructure projects located near the border.
The statement said the extension of the Qinghai-Tibet railway line, which currently ends in Lhasa, to Xigaze would be completed by 2015. Construction of another line from Lhasa to Nyingchi will also begin under the five-year plan.
By the end of last year, $538 million — or a quarter of the budget — had already been spent since construction on the Xigaze line began in September 2010.
Xinhua said the 253-km line would pass through the 90-km-long Grand Canyon of the Yarlung Zangbo — as the Brahmaputra is known in Tibet.
The line would have a capacity to carry 8.3 million tonnes of freight annually.