China to extend Tibet rail to town near Nepal border

Updated - November 16, 2021 11:45 pm IST

Published - March 06, 2014 09:18 pm IST - BEIJING

China will complete the extension of the high-altitude Qinghai-Tibet railway line to Shigatse, a town near the Nepal border, by October, officials said on Thursday.

The Lhasa-Shigatse (Xigaze in Chinese) line will extend over 253 km, carrying trains at 120 km per hour through valleys and over three bridges that run across the Brahmaputra river, or Yarlung Zangbo as it is known in China.

The line will reduce the travel time from Lhasa to the border town to only two hours from over five hours, enabling China to move resources more quickly to remote Tibetan areas. Chinese officials say the line is being built to boost development. The rail network will also boost China's mobilisation capabilities in remote Tibetan areas.

China has proposed extending the line from Shigatse to the border with Nepal. The Chinese side has also thought to have offered financial support to extend the line into Nepal, although Kathmandu has, so far, responded cautiously to the offer in light of India's sensitivities.

Shigatse is an important monastery town home to the Tashilhunpo monastery that has been the seat of the Panchen Lamas, and is an important centre of pilgrimage for many Tibetans.

The announcement of the railway line extension came as the China-backed 11th Panchen Lama, Gyaincain Norbu, attended the opening of an annual session of China's parliament, or National People's Congress (NPC). He serves on the Standing Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a top political advisory body that is convened annually along with the NPC.

Norbu was controversially chosen as the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama -- the second most important figure for the Gelugpa or Yellow Hat sect of Buddhism after the Dalai Lama -- in place of Gendun Choekyi Nyima, who was chosen with the Dalai Lama's approval but subsequently disappeared. He is thought to be under the custody of Chinese authorities.

Separately on Thursday, it emerged that a leading former Tibet official, who founded the Communist Party in Tibet, had authored a new book criticising China's rule and making a case for the exiled Dalai Lama to return.

The autobiography of the 92-year-old Phuntso Wangye, who joined Mao Zedong's Communists in the 1940s but was later imprisoned following the Chinese occupation of Tibet, is expected to be released in Hong Kong on Friday, the South China Morning Post reported.

Wangye was rehabilitated following Mao's death. Although a founding member of the Tibet Communist Party, he later emerged as a critic of China's policies, famously penning letters to former President Hu Jintao in 2006.

In his book, Wangye makes a case for China to compromise with the exiled Tibetan administration in Dharamsala to enable the return of the Dalai Lama and "allow the hundreds of thousands of exiled Tibetan compatriots headed by the Dalai Lama to return home, live and work in peace", the SCMP reported.

He warned that Chinese policies had fuelled tensions between Tibetans and majority Han Chinese, most evident in riots in 2008. "It is significant that someone who has spent his whole life working with the Central government shows this kind of dissatisfaction with its policies," publisher Bao Pu told the newspaper.

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