Beijing has opened a strategically-located highway in Tibet that will link the region to the Nepal border. It could be used for both civilian and military purposes, Chinese state media reports said. The move comes just weeks after a military disengagement in Doka La and could irk India. The reports suggest that the move will enable China to make forays into South Asia and provide economic and military benefits.
The 40.4-kilometre highway in Tibet between Xigaze airport and Xigaze city centre officially opened to the public on Friday, shortening the journey from an hour to 30 minutes, a Global report said.
The project, which is expected to be linked to the China-Nepal railway in the future, features a short section linking the national highway to the Nepal border.
Geographically, any extension of the road and railway connectivity to South Asia is through India, Bhutan and Bangladesh. Chinese officials have said in the past that the projects are feasible and could become a trade corridor for India and China.
The new road runs parallel to the Xigaze-Lhasa railway and links the city’s ring roads with the 5,476-kilometre G318 highway from Shanghai to Zhangmu on the Nepal border, the report said.
The report added: “The China-Nepal railway was part of a deal struck by Nepal deputy prime minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara when he visited China in early September. The railway includes two lines: one connecting three of Nepal’s most important cities and two crossing the border between China and Nepal.”
The China-Nepal railway, which passes through the Chinese border town of Zhangmu and connects with routes in Nepal, will be the first railway by which China enters South Asia, Zhao Gancheng, director of the Center for Asia-Pacific Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, said.
“Although the railway connection between China and Nepal is intended to boost regional development and not for military purposes, the move will still probably irritate India,” Zhao said.
The report quoted Tibet Financial Daily to reveal that the 25-meter-wide highway between Xigaze peace airport and Xigaze would have four double lanes and be classified as a first-tier highway. “Highways in China are of a high standard including the one in Tibet,” Zhao said in the report.
“It can be used by armored vehicles and as a runway for planes to take off when it has to serve a military purpose,” he said.
Wei Qianggao, deputy head of the Tibet transportation department, said, “The road is Tibet’s first real highway. It is our gift toward the upcoming 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.”
As an important traffic programme in the 13th Five-Year Plan and a core section of the Tibet Autonomous Region’s highway network, the road will benefit the export-oriented economy of Xigaze and the complex traffic around Lhasa, Wei said, as per the report.
China has been stepping efforts to improve road connectivity between Tibet and Nepal while speeding up plans to build a railway line connecting to Nepal’s border after KP Sharma Oli — a pro-China former Nepalese prime minister — signed a Transit Trade Treaty with Beijing last year during his tenure.
Oli signed the treaty at the height of the Madhesi agitation and their blockade of Indian goods to provide a major opening for China to reduce the dependence of the landlocked country on India, even as the transportation of essentials through the Himalayan terrain of Tibet would entail heavy costs for Nepal.
However, since the fall of Oli government, China’s plans to speed up its efforts to make forays into Nepal through infrastructure expansion slowed down even though Kathmandu signed up for Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative in May 2017.