China begins mining near Arunachal border: Beijing's quest for resources, land sets up clash with New Delhi

Prakash Katoch
Arunachal Pradesh is on high alert following rising levels of the Siang river caused due to water overflowing from an artificial lake in Tibet formed after a landslide.

China's hunger for natural resources, minerals and energy are well known: Which it is ruthlessly pursuing in its own territory and abroad. Even in a country like Afghanistan, which is continuously wracked with violence, China is the only country in the world that has been drilling commercial oil since 2012 and mining copper. In fact, one of the reasons behind President Donald Trump's decision for US forces to remain in Afghanistan was mineral deposits. However, India has yet to venture into mining in Afghanistan for security reasons.

China annexed Tibet for its water and mineral resources. Xinjiang was similarly annexed with China realising its oil and gas pipelines will need to go in multiple directions. China made Pakistan illegally transfer Shaksgam Valley (5,180 square kilometres €" part of Jammu and Kashmir) to it because of its fresh water resource and proximity to Pakistan and the Siachen glacier.

Similarly, China illegally occupied Aksai Chin (38,000 square kilometres: Part of Jammu and Kashmir) and is making forays into eastern Ladakh because the area is rich in minerals and natural resources such as thorium and uranium. There also could be mercury, iron, and nickel and coal reserves in Ladakh though India has never undertaken any mining in these areas.

People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers were observed working in northern Nepal in areas adjoining the border with Tibet known to have uranium deposits few years ago. Now, China has already commenced operations for mining gold in Nepal.

The hot news now is that China has been undertaking extensive mining operations on "its side" of the disputed India-China border over last few years. The scale of these operations has been unprecedented with the area reportedly having huge deposits of gold, silver and other precious minerals valued at some $60 billion.

China's massive mining activity across Arunachal Pradesh was preceded by years of building roads and other infrastructure. The major activity is around Lhunze county, located south-east of the Tibet Autonomous Region. Lhunze is Indian territory (part of Arunachal Pradesh) but under illegal occupation of China with PLA presence.

Enormous, deep tunnels have been dug into the mountains along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), to allow thousands of tonnes of ore to be loaded and transported out by trucks daily, along roads built through every village. Extensive power lines and communication networks have been established, while construction is under way on an airport that can handle passenger jets.

According to the lead scientist for a Beijing-funded northern Himalayan minerals survey, a series of discoveries in recent years put the potential value of ores under Lhunze and the nearby area at Yuan 370 billion ($58 billion), though this is preliminary estimate and more surveys are under way.

Arunachal Pradesh has a vast reserve of mineral oils, gas and coal reserves. Coal is explored from Namchik-Namphuk mines in Tirap district. In addition there are huge reserve of dolomite, limestone, graphite, marble, lead and zinc etc. It is also assumed that there are reserve of iron and copper. The main mineral rich districts are Lohit, Tirap, Chanlang, West Kameng, Upper Subansiri, and Dibangghati.

Little wonder then that China expanded her illegal claim of Tawang Plateau to entire Arunachal Pradesh (90,000 square kilometres of Indian territory) in 2005 and started calling it "south Tibet". In October 2017, President Xi Jinping underscored Beijing's claim to the area in a letter to a family in Lhunze, published in Chinese media, thanked them for their loyalty and contributions to China, and also urged the people of Lhunze to "set down roots" to develop the area for China's national interest.

For the past several years, China has been trying consistently to prove Arunachal Pradesh is part of Tibet. It is applying psychological warfare both to make-believe its falsehood, aimed at cultural assimilation astride the LAC, using print and electronic media. Magazines and websites funded by China to further its claims over Arunachal Pradesh being an 'integral' part of Tibet (read China).

China Travel Guide' magazine brazenly promotes tourism in 'south Tibet' and 'Ziro' (in Arunachal Pradesh) tourist destinations. The magazine describes Lhoba Apatanis of Arunachal as 'Chinese' tribe, and describes them as "the most beautiful ethnic people" of China. China's Tibetology Research Centre, founded in 1986, is actively involved in projecting Arunachal Pradesh as 'south Tibet'.

From the above it should be quite clear why despite 20 meetings of the Special Representatives of India and China on the border issue, no progress has been made. Given its hunger for minerals and energy recourses, it is unlikely that China will give up her illegal territorial claims astride Himalayas, including Arunachal Pradesh. The discovery of China constructing a 1.2-kilometre motorable road in Tuting area of Arunachal Pradesh during January 2018, despite the area being covered with three feet of snow, should be viewed in this context.

The recent Modi-Xi informal meeting at Wuhan notwithstanding, China will continue its policy of ambiguity and deceit. Its occupation and militarisation of the South China Sea also aimed to usurp massive reserves of natural resources, oil, gas and minerals in that region. The same applies to Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. While we alleviate our economic relations with China and examine the Brahmaputra water data she has shared (which most likely will make no mention of the waters diverted by her within Tibet and to Xinjiang), we need to counter Chinese moves to substantiate Arunachal Pradesh as 'south Tibet', using all possible means.

Needless to mention, China should not be permitted any more salami-slicing of territory, however small. It would also be prudent to keep open the 'Tibet' and 'One China' question till the India-China boundary is settled.

The author is a retired lieutenant-general of the Indian Army

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