A report in Sunday’s South China Morning Post has lit a firestorm. It said that China has begun large-scale mining operations in Lhunze county, on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control, which “may create a new military flashpoint with India”. The report said a huge trove of gold, silver and other precious minerals has been found there. It also quoted an expert as saying “this is similar to what has happened in the South China Sea”.
The report attracted widespread attention from Indian media on Sunday. Since the paper quoted people familiar with the project as describing China’s move as a part of an ambitious plan by Beijing to reclaim South Tibet, relevant news stories from Indian media were full of vigilance.
However, 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 report was bound to make waves.
Lhunze county is not a disputed region. Whether or not there are mining operations there falls entirely within China’s sovereignty. The Sino-Indian border dispute is different from the South China Sea issue and so it is quite farfetched to compare the two.
After the Doklam standoff, Beijing and New Delhi increased their strategic communication and coordination in the border areas. After Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Wuhan last month and his meeting with his counterpart Xi Jinping, the two sides achieved major progress in strengthening mutual trust. Both countries have no intention of provoking border disputes and China is unlikely to kick-start an aggressive plan on territorial issues.
The report poked a sensitive spot in Sino-Indian ties but severely lacked factual evidence. The article was coarse, but was soon responded to by Indian media which were extremely excited to see such a topic. Thus it created a hotspot event almost instantaneously.
But to many Chinese people, their first impression is that the report is not credible, given the vague facts, the geopolitical point quoted by a geologist and the denial by the expert. It made people doubt the author’s motive and speculate that he may be seeking to disturb Sino-Indian ties.
It is to be hoped that India will not be provoked by this report, lose focus on the big picture of the relationship between Beijing and New Delhi and get off the track of Sino-Indian cooperation.
China is now maintaining its leading position when it comes to a comparison of strength with India. If Beijing did want to solve border controversies through its national strength, it would have long ago started large-scale activities in border areas.
The two governments, not the media, should take the lead in solving border disputes, as the latter can easily mislead public sentiment. Negotiations should be conducted by the two countries’ professional diplomatic and security teams, which should present a solution acceptable to both parties and the two nations’ societies.