Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi is considering extending a rail line from the Tibetan capitol of Lhasa to Kathmandu in Nepal, and tunnelling under Mount Everest to do so, The Telegraph reports.
The project would involve tacking on about 400 miles of rail to an already 1,200 mile track which takes 25 hours to traverse as it is. The move would provide easy transport in one of the trickiest terrains in the world, and increase China’s influence in the region.
Historically, the mountain range that holds eight of the world’s fourteen peaks that top 8,000 meters in altitude has served as a practical and cultural barrier. Nepal has long been in India’s sphere of influence, but in recent years China has bought in to the struggling nation by investing in infrastructure such as roads and bridges.
According to state-run Chinese media outlets, Nepal has apparently responded favourably, requesting that the line be built. If tunnelling under the world’s tallest mountain sounds like a difficult and involved ordeal, that’s because it is.
“The line will probably have to go through Qomolangma [Mount Everest] so that workers may have to dig some very long tunnels,” The Telegraph reported one of China’s top railway engineers, Wang Mengshu.
Wang is no stranger to ambitious engineering feats — he has also proposed a 125 mile long tunnel to traverse the Bering Strait joining Alaska and Russia. While tunnelling under Everest is an achievable goal, the project would face severe difficulties with the terrain and altitude, so the train would likely not be able to break fifty miles per hour.
The feat would provide China with more influence over India’s allies and neighbours as well as continue Beijing’s plan to open up the Buddhist plateau of Tibet to tourism and modern Chinese culture.
Basically, a rail line from mainland China under the Himalayas would connect the nation to the billion plus inhabitants living below “The Roof of the World”.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made efforts to bolster the nation’s regional pull, but the construction of a contiguous rail line between China and the Nepalese capitol Kathmandu would undermine his historical geographic advantage as early as 2020.
As with any engineering project of this size, it is not without it’s opponents. The International Campaign for Tibet cautions that there are “dangerous implications for regional security and the fragile ecosystem of the world’s highest and largest plateau.”
ICT President Matteo Mecacci questioned China’s intentions, stating that the “Chinese government’s claim that rail expansion on the plateau simply benefits tourism and lifts Tibetans out of poverty does not hold up to scrutiny and cannot be taken at face value.”
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