Chinese expansion goes underneath Mount Everest, literally
Chinese state media has reported that the government is planning to expand the Qinghai to Tibet railway 'at Nepal's request' - which could include a tunnel under the world's tallest mountain - by 2020.
The step is important politically as it shows Beijing building links with Nepal, a country India regards as firmly within its sphere of influence.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi visited Kathmandu in December and, according to Nepalese reports, said the line could eventually be extended to the Nepalese capital and further - creating a crucial link between China and the huge markets of India.
'The line will probably have to go through Qomolangma so that workers may have to dig some very long tunnels,' expert Wang Mengshu told the Chinese Daily newspaper, referring to Everest by its Tibetan name.
He said that, due to the challenging Himalayan terrain with its 'remarkable' changes in elevation, trains on any line to Kathmandu would probably have a maximum speed of 120 kilometres per hour.
The new plans underline China's increasing influence in Nepal, after years of improving the infrastructure of the nation.
As well as building roads, it has invested billions of dollars in hydropower and telecommunications.
Chinese tourism to Nepal, which is home to eight of the world's 14 peaks over 8,000 metres, is also climbing.
Beijing's increasing role has raised alarms in New Delhi that China, already closely allied to Pakistan, is forging closer economic ties with Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Nepal in a deliberate strategy to encircle India.
In an apparent counter-move, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged late last year that South Asia's largest economy would fund a series of regional investments and free up its markets to its neighbours' exporters.
But India has struggled to compete with China's financial strength.
Human rights groups have criticised China's plans to expand the rail network in Tibet.
The International Campaign for Tibet has warned of the project's 'dangerous implications for regional security and the fragile ecosystem of the world's highest and largest plateau'.
'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,' ICT president Matteo Mecacci said in a statement last year.
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