South Asia

Nepal to join Silk Road Economic Belt through Tibet

An ethnic Tibetan seen along the tracks of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway Qinghai province in 2006. File photo.

An ethnic Tibetan seen along the tracks of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway Qinghai province in 2006. File photo.

China has taken a firm step to extend the Silk Road Economic Belt to South Asia, by working out a blueprint of connecting Nepal with the Eurasian transport corridor.

Last month, Nepal formally signed a four-point document endorsing the Silk Road Economic Belt — a pet project of President Xi Jinping for connecting Asia with Europe along a land corridor, with China as its hub. The agreement was signed during a meeting in Beijing of the Nepal-China Inter-governmental Business and Investment Coordination.

A local media report in Nepal quoted an embassy official in Beijing as saying that Nepal and China “have agreed to revive the old Silk Road that runs from Lhasa to Kathmandu to Patna”.

Analysts point out that Nepal has joined a project that China has marshalled along with Russia as its core partner, to counter the Washington-led “Asia Pivot” doctrine, which has the containment of a rising China at its heart.

Under the new Silk Route blueprint, the Chinese want to open up the transportation channel from the Pacific to the Baltic Sea, from which would radiate rail and road routes, which would also connect with East Asia, West Asia, and South Asia.

China wants to connect with Nepal and South Asia through an extension of the Qinghai-Tibet railway.

The rail line from Lhasa has already been extended to Shigatse, Tibet’s second largest city, 253 km away. The Chinese plan to build two lines from Shigatse. One would lead to Kerung, the nearest Chinese town from Nepal, from where it would be extended to Rasuwagadhi in Nepal. The other line would head to Yadong on the India-Bhutan border.

The website of Nepal reported that visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged his Nepalese hosts last week to conduct a feasibility study so that the railway could be extended to Kathmandu and beyond.

Observers say that both sides visualise the extension of the line from the Nepalese capital to Lumbini.

India’s sensitivities

Aware of India’s sensitivities regarding the perceived expansion of Chinese influence, Mr. Wang proposed a Beijing-Kathmandu-New Delhi trilateral development partnership as a confidence building step. “Nepal is uniquely located between two large neighbours. We want Nepal to develop good relations with both the countries,” he observed during a media conference.

The Chinese Foreign Minister pointed out that relations between China and India are mutually reinforcing, adding that, “Nepal and India are also reinforcing their relations for mutual benefit and we encourage positive interaction.”

Observers say that the rail connectivity with China will spur the globalisation of the Nepalese economy. Once a rail connection with China is established, Nepalese goods can be transited to the international markets through the Eurasian transportation network.

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Printable version | May 21, 2022 9:56:11 pm |