The Nepal-China Railway

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A Nepali delegation headed by Devendra Karki from the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport went to Beijing between 17th to the 23rd of June for a consultation meeting on the construction of the Kathmandu-Kerung Railway. According to the department engineer Kiran Karki, the delegation had been invited by the Chinese and were to discuss the Detailed Project Report (DPR) further[1]. During these talks, China made it clear that it would not be willing to build the railway linking Kerung to Kathmandu through a grant system under the BRI or provide technical assistance free of cost[2]. The Chinese officials cited that the rail link would, for the largest part, be carried out on Nepali territory and hence would help Nepal’s economy alone. Even from the feasibility report created by the Chinese side, the 72-kilometer railway’s estimated cost is close to NPR 35 billion[3]. This means that the Chinese authorities want Nepal to bear the cost on its own or agree to take a massive amount of loans to build this railway. Thus the main obstruction from the Nepali side for the Kerung-Kathmandu Railway comes from a disagreement in the funding modality.

The Nepali Congress believes that if Nepal were to agree to build the railway based on loans, Nepal would face a situation similar to the Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka due to debt trap. On the other hand, the Nepal Communist Party have shown a willingness to go ahead with the railway even under the loan system. Despite the divide, the Nepali authorities could have easily anticipated that it would be highly unlikely for China to build the railway without any form of monetary or security gain. Furthermore, the railway itself will go through some of the most inhospitable terrain and the earthquake-prone Himalayan region making it vulnerable to disasters. It seems as though the Nepali authorities overestimated a cursory agreement with the Chinese to include the railway project under BRI. Instead, the process to obtain a Kerung-Kathmandu railway remains rife with obstacles ranging from lack of funds, to engineering challenges, and even geological risks. During the meeting in Beijing, the Chinese officials even made it clear, the next discussion would only be possible when Nepal hands over its own side of the feasibility report, keeping in mind the security aspect and ecological balance. 


[1] https://setopati.net/social/148335

[2] https://english.khabarhub.com/2019/22/33581/

[3] https://www.asiatimes.com/2019/07/article/nepal-china-railway-plans-hit-a-dead-end/

Author: Natasha Todi

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