This work proposes a new lateral foreland thrusting model based on geological evidence and 3-D particle discrete-element simulation to explain the Longmenshan southeastward thrusting during the closure of the Songpan-Ganze basin. The Late Triassic NE–SW compression caused by the northward movement of the Qiangtang Block and the resulting differential shortening within the wedge-shaped Songpan-Ganze terrane produced southeastward topographic gradient. The thick sedimentary pile, driven by the horizontal tectonic force and the deviatoric stress generated from gravitational effect, and decoupled from the subducting basement by the low-strength décollement, was laterally extruded and resulted in the southeastward Longmenshan thrusting. Therefore, the Longmenshan thrust belt is a lateral foreland thrust belt of the Songpan-Ganze terrane. For the first time, 3-D particle discrete-element simulation was used for the geological study of the Longmenshan area, and it clearly reproduces the dynamical process of the Longmenshan southeastward thrusting and well predicts the Xiaojin Arcuate Zone. The particle discrete-element simulation results verify the new model and reveal that two key factors facilitate the lateral foreland thrusting: the wedge-shaped geometry that produces differential shortening and lateral topographic gradient, and the low-strength décollement that decouples the extruded sedimentary pile from the basement. The lateral foreland thrust belt, which is unique in its tectonic location and dynamic behavior, is a new kind of foreland thrust belt that is different from the pro-foreland and retro-foreland thrust belts, and it provides new insight into the tectonic evolution of collisional orogens.

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