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China peddles fake news, says running freight train to Kathmandu

Chinese official’s claim that a freight train from China to Kathmandu has raised eyebrows

KATHMADU: Ji Rong, Counsellor at the Department of Asian Affairs of Chinese foreign ministry on Wednesday tweeted that the first South Asia-bound freight train from Chinese city Lanzhou departed for Kathmandu. In her tweet, the Chinese official further said that the train is expected to reach Nepal within 9-10 from Lanzhou, saving 15 days compared with sea shipping.

Twitter users were quick to ask Ji Rong about her claim. “Without rail line how train will come Kathmandu. Is this a flying train?” one Twitter user commented.

Another Twitter user said “There is no railway line in Kathmandu fake news by Chinese government official.”

Many Nepalis including some government officials were taken by surprise by the tweet. Because, there is no direct rail connectivity between Nepal and China and works have just begun to carry out feasibility study for developing a cross-border railway.

A Nepali official termed it a mere Chinese propaganda to show the international community that a railway line has already been established between Nepal and China under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

“This is just propaganda by China. As of now, there is no direct railway line between China and Nepal. We are in the phase of feasibility study for the same. Time will tell us whether this railway line is feasible or not,” the official told India Narrative on Saturday.

Lanzhou is a city in China’s northwestern Gansu Province where some Nepali nationals are also involved in business.

However, this is not the first time the Chinese side tried to give an impression that China and Nepal have already been connected by railway.

In 2016, People’s Daily of China announced that the Lanzhou-Kathmandu combined transport service (rail and road) began for Nepal. It reported that the final destination of the international freight train is Kathmandu, but rail transport will change over to road transport in Shigatse (Xigaze), Tibet.

The journey includes 2,431 kilometres of rail transport from Lanzhou to Shigatse, 564 kilometres of road transport from Shigatse to Kyirong (Geelong Port) and 160 kilometres of road transport from Kyirong to Kathmandu. Altogether, the combined transport takes 35 days fewer than traditional ocean transport would, according to the People’s Daily.

Of late, China has pushed forward a vision for developing a cross-border railway connecting Nepal’s capital’s capital Kathmandu under its ambitious Trans Himalayan Multi-dimensional Connectivity plan under the BRI. Beijing sent a team of railway engineers and experts to Nepal in January this year, a few days after the formation of the Prachanda-led government.

As per the proposal forwarded by China, the estimated cost for the feasibility study of the 72-km cross-border Nepal-China railway will be around Nepali rupees 3.4 billion (180.47 million RMB).

“China has agreed to provide grants for the feasibility study of the railway and its technical studies,” an official at Nepal’s Ministry of Physical Infrastructure, told India Narrative.

Nepal and China have already discussed the ambitious railway project, but are yet to finalize its funding modalities.

Earlier, the two countries had discussed the matter when Nepal’s former Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka visited China at the invitation of Wang Yi, then Chinese foreign minister, in August last year.

The government led by Sher Bahadur Deuba sought additional negotiations for finalizing connectivity projects including the much-hyped cross-border Kerung-Rasuwagadhi railway.

Nepal had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the Belt and Road with China in May 2017. However, it has not implemented a single project under the BRI yet.

(Santosh Ghimire is India Narrative’s Nepal Correspondent based in Kathmandu.)

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