Ma­jor rail boost for Ti­bet

Project set to fuel re­gion’s eco­nomic growth: ex­perts

Global Times - - Front Page - By Li Xuan­min

The con­struc­tion of the Sichuan-Ti­bet rail­way, dubbed the world’s most chal­leng­ing rail­way, will have a big in­flu­ence in boost­ing Ti­bet’s in­te­gra­tion into South Asia and the China-pro­posed Belt and Road ini­tia­tive (BRI), as well as fa­cil­i­tat­ing its trade con­nec­tiv­ity with China’s de­vel­oped re­gions, in­dus­try ob­servers said on Thurs­day.

The com­ments came after Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping called for the full launch of the plan­ning and con­struc­tion of the 1,700-kilome­ter SichuanTi­bet rail­way at a meet­ing held on Wed­nes­day, the Xin­hua News Agency re­ported.

The meet­ing em­pha­sized that the rail­way, which will run from Chengdu, cap­i­tal of South­west China’s Sichuan Prov­ince, to Lhasa, cap­i­tal of South­west China’s Ti­bet Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion, will pro­mote eth­nic sol­i­dar­ity, safe­guard na­tional unity and con­sol­i­date the sta­bil­ity of the fron­tier, as well as bol­ster­ing Ti­bet’s eco­nomic and so­cial de­vel­op­ment, the re­port said.

The 250-bil­lion-yuan ($36.16 bil­lon) rail­way, which will have a des­ig­nated speed of be­tween 160 and 200 kilo­me­ters per hour, is ex­pected to be com­pleted by 2026, me­dia re­ports said.

The line will go through the south­east of the Qing­hai-Ti­bet Plateau, one of the world’s most ge­o­log­i­cally ac­tive ar­eas, which also has sharp changes in ter­rain. This means the con­struc­tion of the rail­way line will have to over­come sub­stan­tial risks.

Long Xingchun, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at China West Nor­mal Univer­sity, told the Global Times on Thurs­day that the rail­way could fuel Ti­bet’s eco­nomic growth be­cause it will con­nect Ti­bet with Sichuan, whose trans­porta­tion net­work is also linked with other south­west­ern re­gions as well as more de­vel­oped cen­tral and east­ern re­gions such as the Yangtze River Eco­nomic Zone and the Guang­dong-Hong KongMa­cao Greater Bay Area.

Upon com­ple­tion, the travel time by train from Chengdu to Lhasa will re­port­edly be cut from 48 hours to about 13 hours.

“The short­ened travel time will en­able faster move­ment of goods and peo­ple be­tween Ti­bet and wealthy re­gions of China, in­ject­ing new vigor into Ti­bet’s econ­omy,” said Sun Zhang, a rail ex­pert and pro­fes­sor at Shang­hai Tongji Univer­sity.

The project will also pro­vide the sec­ond rail line into Ti­bet after the Qing­hai-Ti­bet Rail­way.

But Long noted that the new rail­way will of­fer more sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits than the first rail line.

Un­like North­west China’s Qing­hai Prov­ince, which is rel­a­tively un­de­vel­oped, Sichuan is Ti­bet’s most af­flu­ent neigh­bor, and is the cen­ter of China’s south­west re­gions with a dy­namic and vi­brant eco­nomic struc­ture. “So its eco­nomic ra­di­a­tion ef­fect to Ti­bet will be much stronger,” Sun told the Global Times.

It is also nec­es­sary to con­struct the rail­way so that goods can move quickly along the route with­out be­ing af­fected by weather con­di­tions, Long said.

“Ev­ery year, the Sichuan-Ti­bet high­way is closed for up to six months due to nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, block­ing Ti­bet’s trade con­nec­tiv­ity with in­land China,” Long added.

In the long term, the rail­way could also po­ten­tially boost Ti­bet’s tourism rev­enue as well as driv­ing in­vest­ment in its real econ­omy, which will help bridge the gap be­tween the coun­try’s western re­gions and those in the east, Sun noted.

Open­ing up more

Ex­perts also pointed out that the rail­way can help Ti­bet play the role of an “in­ter­me­di­ary” be­tween South­west China and South Asian coun­tries such as Nepal and In­dia. “The re­gion could then uti­lize re­sources from home and abroad to drive its econ­omy,” Long said.

At the same time, more Chi­nese tourists will be eager to travel by train to South Asia and goods from northern In­dia and Nepal can be shipped to China more quickly, help­ing the two na­tions to tap the Chi­nese mar­ket.

The prospect of con­nect­ing with South Asia is promis­ing, as the rail­way line from Lhasa to Ti­bet’s Xigaze, as part of an ex­ten­sion of the Qing­haiTi­bet rail­way, was put into use in 2014. Mean­while, the China-Nepal rail­way, which will link Nepal’s cap­i­tal Kath­mandu with Xigaze, is ex­pected to be com­pleted by 2022.

Sun noted the in­te­gra­tion into Sichuan’s trans­porta­tion net­work will open up more op­por­tu­ni­ties for Ti­bet to par­tic­i­pate in and ben­e­fit from the BRI.

Chengdu op­er­ates mul­ti­ple Chi­naEurope freight trains, mak­ing it pos­si­ble for Ti­bet to trans­port goods to Europe via the route. The re­gion could also send goods to ports in South China’s Guang­dong Prov­ince, tak­ing ad­van­tage of the Mar­itime Silk Road.

“The short­ened travel time will en­able faster move­ment of goods and peo­ple be­tween Ti­bet and wealthy re­gions of China, in­ject­ing new vigor into Ti­bet’s econ­omy.” Sun Zhang Rail ex­pert and pro­fes­sor at Shang­hai Tongji Univer­sity

Photo: IC

The last T-shaped girder is in­stalled on the LhasaYa’an high­way bridge at the Chengdu-Ya’an sec­tion of the Sichuan-Ti­bet rail­way in South­west China’s Sichuan Prov­ince in April.

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