Nepal revives railways as China, India vye for influence

Three years after its last train hit the buffers, landlocked Nepal is building a new railway network to boost its ailing economy — helped by the rivalry between its powerful neighbours, China and India.

The railway to India was a lifeline for the small southern frontier town of Janakpur, used to import everything from sweets to clothes and cosmetics and fuelling a vibrant border economy.

But it fell into disrepair after years of neglect and since 2014 the train has sat stationary, its rusting carcass now a playground for local children, while Janakpur’s markets are empty.

“When the train was running, we would have a lot of business. I was easily providing (for) my family,” said Shyam Sah, whose small family-run cosmetics shop has suffered an 80 percent drop in profits since the railway closed.

Now it is being rebuilt with Indian backing, one of three new rail lines — one funded by China in the north and a third by Nepal itself — that the country hopes will help boost international trade.

Nepal remains largely isolated from the global economy, dependent on aid and remittances.

Growth slowed dramatically after a 2015 earthquake but is expected to normalise at 5 percent from 2018 — one of the slowest rates in South Asia — according to the World Bank.

In recent years it has courted its two large neighbours for investment in an attempt to plug itself into a rail network that links the far eastern reaches of Asia with Europe.

But geography is not on its side.

The Himalayas form a natural border between Nepal and China, leaving it largely dependent on India — with which it shares a 1,400 kilometre (900 mile) open border — for the majority of its imports and exports.

– Game-changer –

In recent years Kathmandu has tilted towards Beijing as part of a nationalist drive to decrease the country’s reliance on New Delhi.

China has responded, ramping up its diplomatic ties with Nepal — mostly through large-scale infrastructure investments.

In 2017, Beijing pledged $8.3 billion to build roads and hydropower plants in Nepal, dwarfing India’s commitments of $317 million.

Feasibility studies are also underway for a Beijing-backed railway connecting Kathmandu to Lhasa in Tibet, cutting straight through the Himalayas at an estimated cost of $8 billion.

Ankit Panda, senior editor at The Diplomat magazine, said that could be a game-changer for the small country.

“The rail line with China holds potential depending on the demand side of the equation, on how China allows Nepal to…

Read the full article from the Source…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *