Photo: Reuters
India's China policy has shifted since Narendra Modi's election to a second term as prime minister. Photo: Reuters

A mining project on the Chinese side of territory disputed with India is drawing international interest, with some reportedly speculating that developments could turn the area into “another South China Sea.”

The mining activity is unprecedented in scale, according to a report in The South China Morning Post on Sunday, following years of investment in infrastructure in the area, which Chinese state geologists say is home to some US$60 billion in precious metals.

The location of the project, Lhunze County, lies just outside territory claimed both by China as South Tibet, and by India as part of the state of Arunachal Pradesh. The SCMP report cited experts familiar with the project as saying that the mines are part of Beijing’s designs to reclaim what it refers to as South Tibet.

The article quoted a professor at China University of Geosciences, Zheng Youye, who was the lead scientist for a Beijing-funded survey of minerals in the Himalayas, as saying “this is similar to what has happened in the South China Sea.”

Another source cited in the report, Hao Xiaoguang, a “senior government specialist in China-India disputes in South Tibet,” echoed this sentiment.

“What China achieved today in the South China Sea was almost unthinkable a decade ago. I am optimistic what will happen in the Himalayas in the coming years because President Xi has made it clear that ‘not a single inch of our land will be or can be ceded from China’, which definitely includes South Tibet,” Hao was quoted as saying.

Chinese state-owned Global Times pushed back on the report, suggesting it was erroneous, saying on Monday that “the Chinese expert the Hong Kong-based newspaper quoted told the Global Times on Sunday that he did not mention the South China Sea at all.”

The Global Times article did not specify which of the two Chinese experts cited by SCMP – both of which compared the disputed territory to the South China Sea – denied the quote. While the Global Times did not identify which source they had spoken to, they reported that the person was very angry to have been mischaracterized in the SCMP article.

The prospects of China stepping up efforts to reclaim territory it considers its own on another front is not the only potential flashpoint in the mountainous region. China is purportedly planning a giant tunnel that could one day divert water from the mountains in Tibet to Xinjiang – water which now flows downstream through India and Bangladesh.

While China and India continue to make strident efforts to find areas of cooperation, it looks as though rocky roads in the Himalayas still lie ahead.

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