15 May 2017: Now that it has become a part of President Xi Jinping’s One Belt One Road project, Nepal is currently “in talks” with China to build a cross-border rail link which is expected to cost as much as $ 8 billion, Reuters said citing a source within the Himalayan nation’s Ministry of Finance.
All confusion and uncertainty around Nepal’s participation in the modern Silk Road initiative were put to rest last Friday when Nepalese foreign Secretary Shankar Das Bairagi and Chinese Ambassador Yu Hong inked the framework agreement on behalf of their respective governments.
Speaking on the sidelines of the ongoing Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, under secretary Yug Raj Pandey told Reuters that Nepal can now expect funding from the Chinese government following its signature on the agreement.
The proposed 550 kilometre mega project is expected to be completed in eight years. If and when completed, it would carry both commercial goods and tourists across the international border. Out of 550 kilometres, 400 kilometres will be in Tibet region of China while rest of the 150 kilometres would bring the service to Kathmandu’s doorstep.
“Now we are a member of [the initiative] we can get some specific project assistance from China‘s government. We expect it for the railway, Once we connect by railway then we can increase our trade and invite more tourists to Nepal,” Mr Pandey was quoted as saying.
Hydropower projects and cross-border transmission lines with China would be Nepal’s next focus after the proposed railway link, he added.
The building of railways between the two neighbours is not entirely a fresh idea. Nepal has been toying with the idea for sometime now. The idea of a railway connection with the communist superpower gained special momentum following last year’s blockade along the Indo-Nepal borders creating serious shortage of essential goods including that of life-saving medical supplies. Ever since, the young republic has been actively looking for an alternative to its over-dependence on the southern neighbour.
Yesterday, President Xi delivered his keynote address at the opening ceremony of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing where he pitched his idea of a well-developed modern-day Silk Road where all can win.
Barring India and Bhutan, all South Asian nations have now joined the OBOR initiative. Pakistan in particular is heavily involved in the project causing much concern to its arch rival India as some of the projects will pass through Kashmir.