China, Nepal mull controversial plan to build Kathmandu rail link

China and Nepal are to agree on building a railway between the Kerung in Tibet and Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, a Nepalese official has said.

The plan is expected to be one of a number advanced during a five-day visit of Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, the prime minister of Nepal, to China, which began yesterday (19 June).

Oli, who heads the Nepalese Communist Party (NCP) government, will discuss a number of projects to advance China’s Belt and Road Initiative, as well as its larger neighbour’s plans for an economic corridor through Nepal to India, said Ganesh Shah, a member of Nepal’s NCP Standing Committee, reports India’s Economic Times.

The Times report suggests the railway could be complete in four years. The project would be overseen by an intergovernmental body.

The move will be seen as potentially controversial in the local context, which is characterised by China’s rivalry with India in influencing neighbouring countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Oli, who has spent 14 years in jail for political subversion, was earlier premier of Nepal between October in 2015 and July 2016, when his openly pro-Chinese stance led to an economic blockade by India.

In his second tenure, which began in February of this year, he has promised to balance Chinese and Indian interests, and pointedly made his first state visit following re-election to New Delhi.

At the same time, Oli had worked to reduce Nepal’s vulnerability to Indian sanctions by expanding road links to China. A railway would cement its links to China.

India has also been making its northern border more accessible, and controllable. In 2016, Delhi announced a $3.8bn plan to construct 2,000km of highways in 12 politically important hill states (see further reading).

Image: The Qianghai-to-Tibet railway may be extended to Nepal and India (Jan Reurink/Creative Commons)

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