Accra — The influx of illegal Chinese miners in Ghana is providing a stern test to the decades-old cordial relations between the two countries.
By law, small scale mining is solely preserved for Ghanaians.
However, some Chinese miners have defied legislation by extracting gold in the remote parts of the West African country.
This has continued despite ongoing engagements between the two governments to address the issue.
Most of the Asian nationals, working without permits, have been accused of extending their operations into some restricted areas much to the devastation of land, crops, and farms.
The trend has mostly resulted in conflict between residents in mining communities and the Chinese miners.
"They (Chinese) leave the land devastated. Sometimes they do not even consult the people before they go there. The people also feel that they own the resource.
"They own the land and [Chinese] have come to take the gold away," a youth activist, Kwame Baidu, complained.
An opinion leader, Opanyin Kofi Karikari, also complained that the Chinese invasion had culminated in guest houses and hotels raising rentals owing to the rising demand for accommodation.
"Access to such accommodation is becoming difficult for Ghanaians because most Chinese miners pay up front for months on end," said Karikari.
Yaw Frimpong, a businessman in one of the mining communities, bemoaned the devastation of the land and pollution of water sources as a result of illegal mining activities.
"Sometimes they (Chinese) dig the place and when they cannot locate minerals, they just move to another place. With regulated mining companies, this does not happen," said Frimpong.
Gold industry watchers have attributed the sudden interest in Ghana by Chinese small-scale miners to the rise in the price of gold.
The metal is one of the world's most sought-after commodities, currently trading at more than US$1 000 per ounce on the international market.
The Director of Public Affairs at the Ghana Chamber of Mines, Ahmed Nantogma, said Ghana's vast gold resources and the lucrative price of the mineral had attracted the Chinese.
In July 2013, the Ghana Immigration Service repatriated almost 4 000 Chinese to their country as part of efforts to end illegal mining, known as galamsey in Ghana.
Ghana was called the Gold Coast, for its vast gold resources, before gaining independence from the British in 1957. The mineral has been one of the backbones of the nation's economy until the commercial production of oil in 2010.
Relations between China and Ghana date back to 1960 with Liu Shaoqi and Kwame Nkrumah at the helm of the countries respectively.
China is currently the second largest exporter to Ghana.
The volume of trade between Ghana and China is currently over $5,6 billion, up from $100 million in 2000.
Most of China's foreign direct investment in Ghana is focused on manufacturing, construction, tourism, trading and services.
China's exports to Ghana are three-fold those of the West African second largest economy.
China has financed the construction of key facilities in Ghana, including the National Theatre, the Afefi Irrigation Project, the Dangme East District Hospital, the Teshie General Hospital as well as the Police and Military barracks.
The Ofankor-Nsawam stretch of the Accra-Kumasi Road, the Kumasi Youth Centre, the Office Block of Ministry of Defence, several rural basic schools, the Complex of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration were also financed by the Chinese.
Other projects include the Sports Complex in Cape Coast, the campus of the University of Health and Allied Sciences in Ho and the New Century Career training Institute Expansion Project in Accra started in 2013 while those supported and contracted by the Chinese side such as Bui Hydro-electric Dam, Kpong Water Supply Expansion Project and Atuabo Gas Project.
The Sunon Asogli Power Plant, funded by the China-Africa Development Fund and Shenzhen Energy Group accounts for around 14 percent of Ghana's electricity generation.
Exchanges and cooperation in the fields of culture, education and medical health have also been frequent.
The Chinese Government granted more than 100 scholarships to the Ghanaian students in 2013-2014 academic year.
Training courses and seminars of diverse forms have benefited more than 500 Ghanaians from various fields in since 2014.
These are under the auspices of such projects as Chinese Ambassador Scholarship Programme.