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New strategic rail network to Tibet’s borders raises regional security concerns

November 17, 2014

International Campaign for Tibet, November 12, 2014 - China has confirmed plans to extend the railway in Tibet to the borders of India, Bhutan and Nepal by 2020, and the construction of a new line east from Lhasa close to India’s border, in a new strategic network. The Chinese state media has announced the beginning of construction of a new line to Nyingtri this year, close to the sensitive area of Arunachal Pradesh in India, which China claims as part of the PRC. The developments have created alarm in India with implications for regional security being raised by commentators in India and South Asia.

The new rail links follow the opening of a new checkpoint and ‘land port’ on the border of Nepal and Tibet in October (2014), and the planned opening of the Nathula pass route from Sikkim in India to the sacred Mount Kailash in Tibet, announced in September (2014).


The planned new construction follows the completion of the first extension of the Qinghai-Lhasa railway to Shigatse in the Tibet Autonomous Region, which was inaugurated in August. The railway and its connection to Shigatse has been crucial in the expansion of mining in Tibet, making it possible to transport more ores out of Tibetan areas, many of which were previously remote and inaccessible.


The new railway lines are among several new planned routes that will either traverse or terminate on the Tibetan plateau. This represents a dramatic increase in the number and capacity of linkages with the rest of the Chinese rail network, facilitating further large-scale exploitation of Tibet’s natural resources as well as enabling greater population migration into Tibet, both seasonal in terms of tourists and migrants, and permanent settlers. The routes under discussion include two railway lines through some of the most culturally significant areas of Tibet, and areas that remain under a crackdown since widespread demonstrations across Tibet in 2008. The ambitious plans were mapped out by China’s Minister of Railways and his Deputy, both now serving suspended death sentences commuted to life in prison for corruption.


The expansion of infrastructure in Tibet is likely to have a dramatic impact on the Tibetan landscape, in the context of warnings of an ‘ecosystem shift’ on the plateau due to climate change and human activities, reducing future water supply to China and South Asia. Just weeks after the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet railway in 2006, the Chinese state media announced that fissures had begun to develop in its concrete structures due to the sinking and cracking of its permafrost foundation. Now scientists have warned that warming temperatures, together with the boom in infrastructure construction and urbanization, are combining to create irreversible damage in the ecosystem, including the predicted disappearance of large areas of grasslands, alpine meadows, wetlands and permafrost on the Tibetan plateau by 2050.

The full report is available at:

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