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Nepal wants China to build rail link to Lumbini, monorail

Press Trust of India  |  Beijing 

Nepal has sought China's assistance in building a monorail network in Kathmandu and a cross-border rail line from a Tibetan town to Lumbini, a popular pilgrimage site and the birthplace of Buddha, a senior Nepalese official has said.

"The two sides have also agreed on building railways in Nepal," Gopal Khanal, foreign affairs adviser to Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, told Japanese agency Kyodo

Oli, who arrived here on a week-long visit has signed 10 agreements during his meeting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. This included a landmark transit treaty to end the near-total dependence on India for essential supplies.

Khanal said Nepal is seeking China's assistance in constructing a monorail in Kathmandu and a rail link from China's Gyirong to Lumbini.

By 2020, China plans to extend the high-elevation Qinghai-Tibet Railway to Gyirong, which borders Nepal.

Yesterday, Oli proposed two rail kinds of railway projects to China when he met Premier Li, said Hou Yanqi, Deputy Director General in Foreign Ministry's Asia Department.

"The first is projects of Nepal connecting cities in Nepal, and the second is a cross border railway," she said.

Hou said Oli "raised the issue of building a cross-border railway between China and Nepal" for which he has got a "positive response from the Chinese side and the two sides have agreed to conduct feasibility study at an early date."

China has expanded its railways to Shigatse or Xigaze -- the seat of Panchan Lama in 2014 in Tibet. It is about 450 kilometres from Kyirong, 26 kilometres from Rasuwagadi in Nepal. China plans to extend its rail link to Kyirong by 2020.

Referring to the transit treaty which the Nepalese government hopes will end its dependence on India, Khanal said "the Transport Transit Agreement is a milestone for Nepal."

"Although many details will have to be worked out, the treaty will tremendously boost the confidence of Nepalese people," Khanal said.

So far, Nepal has conducted trade with third countries through the Indian port of Kolkata.

The Japanese agency report said that during Oli's February visit, India offered access to a second port, Visakhapatnam, in a move understood in Kathmandu as the southern neighbour's attempt to woo Nepal away from seeking sea access via Chinese territory.

Khanal said the preliminary understanding was that China would allow Nepal to use Guangzhou port in southern Guangdong province.

Oli will also be seeking Chinese assistance to build fuel reservoirs at three locations in Nepal to avoid the crisis experienced during the border blockade by Madhesis, the Indian origin people who were agitating against the new Constitution.

The Nepal government blames the blockade on India.

"China has always been a helping and non-interfering neighbour. The prime minister's visit will focus on taking relations between the two neighbours to a new level by securing a trade and transit treaty and inviting big Chinese investment to Nepal," Khanal said.

(Reopens FGN 39)

Khanal said the Free-Trade Agreement, which the two sides agreed for a feasibility study, would allow Chinese banks to open branches in Nepal to facilitate trade.

Oli also hopes to improve road connectivity with China's help, especially by repairing the Tatopani route - the biggest trading route between the two nations - that went into disuse after heavy damage caused by last year's devastating tremors.

Oli will seek Chinese cooperation in widening the second biggest trading route - the Kyirong-Rasuwagadi route, he said.

It is not clear whether this was included in the 10 agreements two sides signed yesterday.

Since the Tatopani and Rasuwagadi routes can be difficult to operate during harsh Himalayan winters, Oli will propose building a new all-weather trading route - the Kimathangka route in the Sankhuwasabha district of eastern Nepal.

Khanal said that Oli will also seek Chinese investment to build the 443 MW Upper Arun hydroelectric project, also located in Sankhuwasabha.

The agreements concluded yesterday included a treaty on economic and technical cooperation to build a Regional International Airport Project at Pokhara, Nepal's famous tourist site for which China will extend USD 216 million soft loan.

First Published: Tue, March 22 2016. 18:02 IST