DHARAMSHALA, September 27: China’s strategically important rail line to the Tibetan city of Shigatse, south of capital Lhasa, is set to open a year ahead of schedule by 2014.
Work on the 253 kilometre railway, the first extension of the “Qinghai-Tibet” railway, began in 2010 with a budget of 13.3 billion Yuan ($ 2.1 billion).
Chinese government officials have maintained that the new rail link will promote “tourism and rational use of natural resources.”
However, critics have said the rail line would speed the Sinicisation of the Tibetan plateau and enable a sharp increase in mining and other industry in the environmentally fragile region.
Reports indicate that the rail link has already accelerated a number of mining projects, including the massive Yulong copper mine, under development by Western Mining and Zijin Mining Group Co Ltd, among others.
Activists and Tibet advocacy groups say China’s growing rail network in Tibet will encourage further influx of Han Chinese migrants into Tibet, marginalising the Tibetans in their own country. Activists say China’s primary goal in building the railways is to strengthen its political clout over Tibet and boost efforts to drain Tibet's natural resources.
Official media reports have said the new rail link is designed with a capacity to transport 8.3 million tonnes of freight annually.
Experts in India view the new railway as an expansion of China’s military mobilisation capabilities along the Indo-Tibetan border, adding on to its advanced strategic military infrastructure.
Following the Shigatse rail link’s completion, China plans to extend its rail network further to the Indian border and also to Nepal.
From Shigatse, this line will move east and go right up to Yadong, on the mouth of the Chumbi Valley. This town is connected to the Indian state of Sikkim through the Nathu La pass and is strategically located on the tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan.
This project is slated for completion by 2017, bringing the Tibet railway just 500 km short of the Siliguri corridor in India.
In another extension of the Shigatse line, China will be building a rail track, around 275kms long, towards Kerung of Rasuwa District in Nepal on the Tibet-Nepal border. The Chinese government has already developed Kerung as a special economic zone as per Nepali request.