Recent media reports have claimed that Beijing has invested in mining projects in the Northern Himalayas after the discovery of valuable minerals. This could reportedly increase China’s economic and military strength in the contested region north of Arunachal Pradesh.
India and China have a long history of cultural exchange and trade. There are records of Chinese travellers in India through the medieval ages. While India was under British rule for over a century, China was also adversely affected by British Imperialism, particularly in trade. India’s contemporary relationship with China began in 1950. Between 1960 and 1987, India and China were involved in three major military conflicts: the Sino-Indian war of 1962 centred in Aksai Chin, the Chola incident in 1967 over Sikkim, and the 1987 military skirmish in Sumdorong Chu Valley in Arunachal Pradesh.
The 1962 war was a series of conflicts that followed the 1959 Tibetan uprising and India granting asylum to the Dalai Lama. The People’s Liberation Army took control of Arunachal Pradesh in a border war that resulted in thousands of fatalities. Later, Chinese forces declared a ceasefire and withdrew from the region. China still claims the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as South Tibet, while India claims the Chinese-controlled Aksai Chin territory. The dispute resulted in a militarization of the Sino-Indian border, with both sides building airstrips, outposts, transport infrastructure, and deploying troops.
The tensions between the two nations began to thaw with Rajiv Gandhi’s historic visit to China in 1988. This was the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister in 34 years. A bilateral relationship has since been established; however, the two countries have never completely resolved their border problems and there is a general sense of mistrust. The two countries are geopolitical rivals as both vie for influence in South Asia.
In June 2017, a skirmish broke out between Indian and Chinese troops at the Doklam plateau. Indian soldiers intervened with construction work being conducted by China in the region. The area is a disputed territory between Bhutan (an Indian ally) and China. Both sides increased their military presence in the region. The stand-off was called off almost three months later in August, through diplomatic channels.
According to media reports, China has discovered deposits of gold and other minerals valued at $60 billion on its side of the border with Arunachal Pradesh. Beijing has reportedly begun mining operations in Lhunze County, a region adjacent to the Indian border.
Reports by the South China Post claimed, “People familiar with the project say the mines are part of an ambitious plan by Beijing to reclaim South Tibet.” According to the reports, the region could turn into “another South China Sea.” According to these reports, mining has traditionally been limited in the region, due to restrictions caused by weather and accessibility. However, the country has seen significant investments in recent years, resulting in a mining boom.
According to Zheng Youye, the lead scientist of a Chinese-funded Himalayan minerals survey and professor at the China University of Geosciences, the new mining activities could significantly increase the population in the region, and allow it to act as a support base for military or diplomatic operations in the region. “This is similar to what has happened in the South China Sea,” he said. In the South China Sea, Beijing has backed its expansive territorial claims with island-building and naval patrols. Other Chinese geologists expressed similar sentiments.
Arunachal Pradesh has a number of resources including coal, oil and natural gas, dolomite, limestone, graphite, lead and zinc; however, there is limited research on the scope of these resources, according to Indian geologists.
This news comes less than a month after China and India pledged to improve military communication between the two countries. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese leader Xi Jinping held free ranging talks aimed at improving strained ties between the two countries in April. The leaders agreed to “properly handle and manage disputes” and to “fair settlement” of their border disputes, Xinhua reported.
“The China-India relationship should be a stable and developing one, with mutual trust as the foundation,” the Chinese President said. “In the next step, the two countries should make a comprehensive plan for cooperation and further enhance strategic communication [to enable] timely negotiation on major issues.” According to estimates, India recorded 426 "transgressions" by the PLA across the Line of Actual Control in 2017 (the number was 273 in 2016), with as many as 218 face-offs.
Our assessment is that it will be crucial to prevent another Doklam incident. As stated previously, we believe that the current systems in place between India and China do not effectively address problems arising at the Line of Actual Control. In the recent visit between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi, both leaders agreed to establish clear and open channels of communication. We feel that it is important for India to avoid another military stand-off, while ensuring that its borders remain secure.