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Anti-Corruption Drive
Special> Fourth Plenary Session of 18th CPC Central Committee> Key Words> Anti-Corruption Drive
UPDATED: August 1, 2014 NO. 32 AUGUST 7, 2014
Small But Dynamic
A bustling Tibetan town's growth is fueled by border trade
By Zan Jifang

GATEWAY: People enter and exit China through a bridge that connects Nepal and China at Zham Port, Tibet Autonomous Region, on July 18 (ZAN JIFANG)

It's not easy to drive to Zham, a small town in Tibet Autonomous Region and near the border between China and Nepal. It is located in a valley, and visitors must follow a winding mountain road for hours to get there. The road is well built, but it's narrow and often sees vehicles beyond its capacity—trucks, tourist buses, off-road vehicles and cars can grind to a near halt in the traffic, which gets worse the closer drivers get to the town. On the final stretch, the road narrows to a single lane as trucks pile up and park in the other. A casual glance at their plates reveals they are primarily Nepalese.

The traffic jam and the exotic Nepalese trucks add to the mysterious air of Zham, which is only around 100 km away from Kathmandu, Nepal's capital.

Every day before customs opens the border, there are already queues on both sides. Travelers, business people and local residents from both countries wait eagerly.

Connected to Nepal by a 50-meter-long bridge, the town is the largest land port connecting China to South Asia and is the major channel of Sino-Nepalese exchanges. Every month, nearly 10,000 people enter and exit China from Zham.

Li Yang, a backpacker from central China's Hunan Province, concluded his trip in Nepal in mid-July. He went to Nepal after visiting Tibet. "It's convenient for travelers to enter Nepal from Zham," Li said.

Thanks to its location at the border, the 3,000-person town has grown from a remote mountain area to a flourishing hub for border trade and tourism.

The town is surrounded by hills and has modern buildings and old-style wooden houses mixed together on the slopes. Though there is only one major street in the small town, it is bustling. Shops and restaurants line the street, a typical scene in a rising tourist destination.

Most of the commodities of the shops are handicrafts from Nepal, though there are also perfumes and wines that Nepalese business people have imported from other countries. These goods are much cheaper than outside of Zham, which provides an attraction to shoppers.

"We sell everything to Chinese customers, including Nepalese products and foreign goods we import from other countries," said Chiring Sherpa, a Nepalese trader. When going back to Nepal, he brings back China-made clothes. "These clothes are cheap and of good quality, and are welcomed back home," he said.

A border market close by is an attraction for Nepalese shoppers looking to buy Chinese goods. "We mainly sell electric appliances, bedding articles and clothes," said Zhu Yundi, the owner of the market. "The advantage to our goods is the low price."

Border trade has grown rapidly in Zham, said Gesang, a local official, adding that trade volume through the port reached $280 million in the first three months of 2014 , up 3.4 percent year on year.

According to Gesang, when the Zham Port was opened to trade 48 years ago, the trade volume was little more than $317 annually. By 1994, however, the volume had already soared to $30 million, which has increased by an average of $10 million every year since. In 2013, the trade volume rocketed to $2.04 billion.

Gesang said that 99 percent of the trade was export of Chinese goods. Their destinations were not only Nepal, but also India and other South Asian countries. "Electronic products made in China account for the majority of the exports, such as cellphones. Others include clothes and bedding."

Gesang also admitted that the booming border trade and the burgeoning tourism in the area had made traffic congestion a serious issue for the town. "We have built a new parking area near the port to meet the need of increasing vehicles," he said.

The risk of landslides also looms over the residents and visitors. The local government is working out a plan to prevent them from occurring or at least reducing their frequency.

"We have invited the researchers with the Chinese Academy of Sciences to examine the geological situation in our town, and the research results show that large-scale landslides could be prevented and controlled," he said. "Now the Central Government has invested 3 billion yuan ($476 million) to carry out concrete measures in a landslide-control program and the project will begin in the following months."

"With safer natural environment and better traffic, Zham will receive more and more travelers and business people and usher in prosperity," Gesang said.

Email us at: zanjifang@bjreview.com

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