Nepal revives railways as China, India vye for influence

Three years after its last train hit the buffers, landlocked Nepal is building a new railway network to boost its ailing economy — helped by the rivalry between its powerful neighbours, China and India.

The railway to India was a lifeline for the small southern frontier town of Janakpur, used to import everything from sweets to clothes and cosmetics and fuelling a vibrant border economy.

But it fell into disrepair after years of neglect and since 2014 the train has sat stationary, its rusting carcass now a playground for local children, while Janakpur’s markets are empty.

“When the train was running, we would have a lot of business. I was easily providing (for) my family,” said Shyam Sah, whose small family-run cosmetics shop has suffered an 80 percent drop in profits since the railway closed.

Now it is being rebuilt with Indian backing, one of three new rail lines — one funded by China in the north and a third by Nepal itself — that the country hopes will help boost international trade.

Nepal remains largely isolated from the global economy, dependent on aid and remittances.

Growth slowed dramatically after a 2015 earthquake but is expected to normalise at 5 percent from 2018 — one of the slowest rates in South Asia — according to the World Bank.

In recent years it has courted its two large neighbours for investment in an attempt to plug itself into a rail network that links the far eastern reaches of Asia with Europe.

But geography is not on its side.

The Himalayas form a natural border between Nepal and China, leaving it largely dependent on India — with which it shares a 1,400 kilometre (900 mile) open border — for the majority of its imports and exports.

– Game-changer –

In recent years Kathmandu has tilted towards Beijing as part of a nationalist drive to decrease the country’s reliance on New Delhi.

China has responded, ramping up its diplomatic ties with Nepal — mostly through large-scale infrastructure investments.

In 2017, Beijing pledged $8.3 billion to…

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