Chinese Rail Companies Launch Freight Service to Nepal via Tibet, Competing with India for Influence Over Nepal’s Rail Infrastructure

On May 25, state-owned companies, China Railway X’ian Group and China Railway Container Transport, launched rail-to-road freight services from the Chinese city of Xi’an to Nepal’s capital of Kathmandu, via Tibet.  The eight-day transport service is reportedly intended to increase the connectivity of landlocked Nepal with China, while simultaneously reducing Nepal’s traditional dependency on India for freight transportation.

The launch of the service occurs within the context of an ongoing infrastructure competition between China and India in Nepal, where Belt and Road projects pushed by China have been perceived as an effort to counter New Delhi’s traditional influence in the country.  Meanwhile, Kathmandu has seemingly welcomed the competition in an effort to boost the country’s connectivity and forge an India-Nepal-China transport corridor.

How Kathmandu chooses to proceed with this initiative, may have long-term economic and security implications. In 2019, the Nepali government announced its decision to use China’s “standard gauge” model (as opposed to India’s broad gauge infrastructure) for its planned national railway network project – a move perceived by some as a pivot to Beijing.

The Nepali government has stated its intent to build the planned east-to-west and northern railway routes in the Chinese model, but has assured New Delhi that the southern networks toward India, will be made compatible with Indian rail networks.  Still, Beijing is reportedly pushing Nepal to construct the entire trans-Himalayan network (stretching from Lhasa in Tibet to northern India) to utilize the Chinese standard gauge model.