Geologists have discovered China’s largest gold mine in the Muslim majority province of Xinjiang, according to the state news agency Xinhau.
The new find, close to the border with Kyrgyzstan, has proven gold reserves of 127 tonnes, Xinhua said. If the estimates are correct, the reserves could be worth around 40 billion yuan ($6.5bn, £3.8bn, €4.8bn.)
It the biggest gold mine discovered in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region to date.
Prospectors have explored Xinjiang for more than two decades, using various pieces of equipment such as a gold detector, finding 21 gold ore belts in that time.
The Xinjiang Geology and Mineral Exploration Bureau’s Cui Hongbin said 127 tonnes of gold reserves had been reported by June, as cited by Xinhua. The mine could potentially have a capacity of 200 tonnes of gold, said Cui.
Xinjiang Tongyuan Mining Limited led the exploration effort, according to reports in the National Business Daily newspaper.
The South China Morning Post reported that no mining companies have yet made a deal to explore the newly discovered gold.
The discovery is a rare success story in the exploration sector that has suffered in recent years. The mining industry has suffered from the global financial crisis, with companies slashing exploration budgets for nonferrous minerals by 29% in 2013.
Muslims of Xinjiang
Xinjiang comprises a large part of western China and is rich in oil reserves. It has a Muslim majority population, most of whom are Uighurs of Turkic origin. They speak the Turkic-Uighur language and are culturally quite distinct from the Han Chinese.
Muslim presence in China dates back centuries. There are even reports of Sa’ad ibn Abi Waqas (ra), a relative and companion of the Prophet Muhammad (saw), travelling to China and inviting the Chinese emperor to Islam. The Great Mosque of Guangzhou, which still exists today, is thought to have been built by Sa’ad (ra).
Muslim presence in China was relatively calm until the Manchu (Qing) dynasty began persecuting Muslims for their religion. The Muslims rebelled against the Manchu government a number of times but the rebellions were brutally crushed.
Matters got worse under the Communist government of Mao Zhedong when Islam was specifically targeted, many mosques and Islamic schools were closed and Muslims were tortured and killed.
Although the current Chinese government claims to offer fair and equal treatment to its Muslim population, Muslims in Xinjiang have been victims of systemic discrimination and persecution for some years now. The government has clamped down on the Uighur’s religious practices under the guise of “fighting extremism”.
These measures have supposedly been taken in response to clashes between Uighurs and the police earlier this year.
However, the deadliest violence that occurred in recent times in Xinjiang was in 2009 that led to the death of over 150 people and more than a thousand being injured.
Many Muslims have disappeared since then and their families are still being harassed by security forces.
Campaigners for Uighur rights have said China’s policies towards the ethnic group in Xinjiang are repressive.