Tensions rising as China increases mining at Indian border
25 May 2018
A 70-year border dispute between India and China could be about to reignite after Chinese gold mining in the Lhunze region, just north of the Indian border, intensified in the past few months.
There is already a substantial military presence in the region across the Himalayas and, thanks to China’s discovery of gold, silver, and other precious metals, this is only expected to increase.
The town of Lhunze (red marker) sat within Lhunze County (red circle) is where Chinese mining efforts are concentrated.
Lhunze county is in southern Tibet and is Chinese territory. Just south is the state of Arunachal Pradesh, which sits in the far north-east of India. China believes that the Indian state is actually part of South Tibet and thus should belong to them.
The two countries last faced off in October 2017, but famously China invaded and occupied India’s territory in 1962 – albeit briefly. Since then the Indian government has developed a Mountain Strike Corps and purchased anti-missile defence systems from Russia in preparation for future conflict.
The border state of Arunachal Pradesh is the size of Austria and has a population of 1.2m people. It is known for its rich resources but limited investment in surveying the area means that India is yet to take full advantage of the wealth on offer, though China’s new-found interest might change this attitude.
It is believed that China’s plan is to encroach upon Arunachal Pradesh, but there are fears the contest over territory could replicate the South China Sea situation, where China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei all have competing claims over waters.
Chinese mining in the region has been rapid following new techniques developed by geologists to locate mineral veins and ore within the Himalayas. One such deposit was discovered, containing gold, silver and other rare earth materials worth an estimated £40 billion.
Figures from the Tibetan authorities show that by the end of 2017, Lhunze County had more mining activity than the rest of Tibet combined. Such is the explosive growth that the population is no longer officially known – having shot up from a modest 30,000 at the end of 2016.
The change in the area is dramatic. The locals were traditionally goat-herders and have now become miners. The average income for the rural area has tripled, and roads, shops, houses, and restaurants are popping up all over the area as new towns rapidly develop. Demand is driving this, as more and more workers come in to the new mines.
Engineering work is still ongoing to extend the mine shafts, as well as provide wide roads suitable for industrial vehicles and the transportation of the mined ore, as well as a small airport and electricity pylons throughout the county.
More surveys are expected by Chinese mineral experts and geologists, which will likely fuel tensions with India even further.