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Nepal Banks on Tibet to Develop Remote North

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 05/04/17; April 17, 2005.]

Kathmandu, 12 April 2005 (IANS News) : Nepal is relying on China's development plans in Tibet to develop its own mountainous northern districts.

Kathmandu feels that the sluggish development of the 11 districts near its northern border with China will benefit from Beijing's drive to develop Tibet. Nepal's Tibet-linked trade plans received a fresh boost this month with an agreement to hold a trade fair in Tibet.

A Chinese delegation headed by Gao Shangde, deputy director general of Tibet's Department of Commerce, arrived here to discuss bilateral trade and possible areas of investment, tourism promotion, development of physical infrastructure and setting up of a special economic zone.

The visit has resulted in both sides agreeing to hold trade fairs in Kathmandu and Lhasa, capital of Tibet, alternately every two years. The first one will be held in Lhasa in September where Nepalese entrepreneurs will push for investment from China and a bigger market share in Tibet.

Direct bus services connecting Kathmandu with Lhasa will start May 1.

Initially, each side will operate eight buses a week with the number increasing to 12 after six months. Depending on the response to the service, both sides also envision eventually starting cargo services by road.

The Lhasa-Kathmandu bus service pact has taken off with amazing speed, thanks to Beijing expressing its support for Nepal at a time it is diplomatically isolated due to the Feb 1 royal coup.

On the other hand, an agreement with India to start direct bus services between Indian and Nepalese cities is gathering dust.

Nepal also hopes to gain substantially from China's Gormo-Lhasa railway project. Beijing is hurrying to complete the project that will link China with Tibet's heartland this year instead of the scheduled completion date of 2007.

Once that happens, Beijing says the railway will promote tourism to Tibet, bringing in 5.64 million tourists over the next five years.

The Lhasa-Kathmandu bus service is likely to benefit from the tourist influx, boosting visitors to Nepal and vice versa.

Nepal has consolidated its ties with Beijing by avowing Taiwan and Tibet to be inalienable parts of China.

Kathmandu is planning to set up a special economic zone (SEZ) in its north with Chinese cooperation. The recent visit to Kathmandu by Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing has resulted in an agreement in principle.

The SEZ will compass districts close to Tibet where both the governments will have special laws, special taxation structure and special investment policies.

It will give Nepalese products an alternative destination to India, going to Chinese markets instead through Tibet.

Earlier, Nepal was looking toward establishing a SEZ in Birgunj in the south, next to the border with India, reportedly with Indian assistance. The project has been put on hold due to political developments. (World News)

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