ʼIn March 2022, when Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi traveled to Kathmandu, he told the Nepal government that China is ready to do a ‘technical study’ of the proposed railway line connecting the railway line from Shigatse that lies in Tibet to Kathmandu.
That is the current situation with regards to the proposed railway line spanning more than 170 kilometers.
However, the project since its inception in 2016 has been in on-off mode and several factors like political instability in Kathmandu, Covid-19 pandemic and other factors were responsible for the project to be stalled.
Chinese president Xi Jinping when he visited Nepal in 2019 promised to make Nepal a land-linked country but there are several reasons that the railway line may not be completed.
Pro-China commentators in Kathmandu speaking to current-affairs magazine The Diplomat said that the railway line will be completed in less than a decade but some analysts in Nepal question the feasibility of the project as well as the political will of Nepal’s political establishment to ensure that the railway line is built.
Pro-China commentators also say that if Nepal-China railway line is built and it does become functional, India too can become a part of the railway network.
They reflected upon the recent tensions between India and China but expressed optimism that if boarding a train in Kathmandu could drop one to Europe’s capitals, then India too would be interested.
Also it would be too innocent for any observer to believe that China would simply want to connect the regions.
The railway line also could challenge Nepal’s sovereignty and install a pro-China government with which it would want to dominate India in its own sphere of influence.
However, Vijay Kant Karna, a geopolitical analyst speaking to The Diplomat’s Biswas Baral pointed out that the idea of a rail link between Nepal and China was more a political stunt rather than a national need.
Also one has to look at China’s current economic state, especially in the wake of the lockdowns in Shanghai and Beijing.
China indicated previously that they are not interested in building the railway on grants and fear the Nepal government may not be may not be able to afford a loan deal.
He referred to how former Nepal prime minister KP Sharma Oli, head of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), used the railway line to push forward an anti-India sentiment only to secure victory in polls.
He also said that even if Nepal’s political establishment is more keen on a India-China railway line via Nepal, recent tensions between Beijing and New Delhi means that the latter will be reluctant to the idea.
He also questioned whether Nepali bureaucracy will be able to meet the demands of a project of such magnitude.
Aman Chitrakar, spokesperson for Nepal’s Department of Railways, told the Diplomat that he advised the government not to jump into such a project hastily, while highlighting that what conspired between Wang Yi and Nepal finance minister Janardan Sharma still remains a secret.
There are also questions regarding the ability of the railway to carefully navigate the fragile ecology and rough terrains of the Himalayas.