China has reportedly started a large-scale mining operation near its border along Arunachal Pradesh in India, potentially increasing the friction between the two Asian giants, reported South China Morning Post.
According to the report, a huge trove of gold, silver and other precious minerals, valued at nearly US$60 billion by Chinese state geologists, has been found.
People familiar with the project say the mines are part of an ambitious plan by Beijing to reclaim South Tibet, a sizeable chunk of disputed territory currently under Indian control. China’s moves to lay claim to the region’s natural resources while rapidly building up infrastructure could turn it into “another South China Sea”, they said.
Most of the precious minerals – which include rare earths used to make hi-tech products – are hidden under Lhunze county, a military stronghold China took from India by force nearly 60 years ago.
Due to the booming mining centre, people are rapidly pouring into the area that once had only 30,000 permanent residents. People familiar with the mining plan say the pace of development in Lhunze is part of a Beijing’s efforts to regain full control of South Tibet or Arunachal Pradesh – currently an Indian state.
China conquered South Tibet after a war with India in the early 1960s. “But our troops had to retreat quickly because we had no people there to hold the land,” said Zheng Youye, a professor at the China University of Geosciences in Beijing and the lead scientist for a Beijing-funded northern Himalayan minerals survey. According to him, the new mining activities would lead to a rapid increase in the Chinese population in the Himalayas, which would provide stable, long-term support for any diplomatic or military operations aimed at gradually driving Indian forces out of territory claimed by China.
India currently controls most of South Tibet, or Arunachal Pradesh – an area known for its rich Tibetan culture and lush landscape dotted with Buddhist temples. It has a population of 1.2 million spread across more than 83,000 square-kilometres.
Over the decades, New Delhi has built up a strong military presence in the area, including airports and missile launch facilities. The Indian government has also encouraged people in other parts of India to migrate to the most northeastern state.
In Lhunze, some of the newcomers are still acclimatising. Weng Qingzhen, who owns a Sichuan restaurant in the county, said she moved there less than two months ago after friends and relatives told her about the mining boom.
“We came here for the gold rush, but this place is not as wild as I thought,” she said. “It’s orderly and civilised and there’s an ample supply of almost everything you need. The only thing there’s a shortage of is oxygen.” Lhunze sits at an altitude of 4,000 metres (13,123 feet) above sea level.