Kathmandu: Nepal seeks to end Indian dominance over its trade routes with separate deals for a rail link to Tibet and a tunnel during Chinese President Xi Jinping two-day visit to the Himalayan nation. The 70-km rail link will connect Gyiron in Tibet with Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu, making it one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in the country.
A Chinese team has already conducted a preliminary study for the project, which will be part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Xi’s signature diplomatic and trade push that is attempting to recreate the old Silk Road joining China with Asia and Europe. Alongside, a proposed 28-km road tunnel will more than halve the distance from Kathmandu to the Chinese border, saving on time and cost.
“China will now conduct a feasibility study of the rail project and help construct the tunnel way,” Rajeshor Gyawali, a spokesman for Nepal’s ministry of physical infrastructure and transport, said. Nepal has sought to increase connectivity with China since a blockade along its border with India resulted in months of acute shortage of fuel and medicine in 2015 and 2016. “These facilities will give us alternative trade routes when we face border blockades,” Gyawali said.
India accounts for nearly two thirds of Nepal’s trade and is the sole supplier of fuel. Officials from both sides also signed 20 deals covering trade, water supply and traditional medicines at the end of Xi’s visit, the first by a Chinese president in 22 years. “We will help Nepal realise its dream of becoming a land-linked country from a land-locked one,” Xi said at a dinner after he arrived from India where he had meetings with India’s PM Narendra Modi.