Mining assets scenario in Myanmar post COVID-19 and growing Chinese influence

    28-Sep-2020
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Ravi Sinha
Contd from previous issue
Thus PANAUST is basically a Chinese company that is instrumental in the smooth execution of Chinese policy of BRI.The ultimate aim of China was to take complete access to the extraction of good Base Materials & Gold / Silver deposits of S.E. Asian countries like Papua New Guinea, Laos in Myanmar the said company would operate as Wuntho Resource Company Ltd (WRCL), in which PANAUST would hold 90% share while 10% would be held by Myanmar Energy Resource Group. WRCL has been allotted 7 exploration permits here, inclusive of over 1500 sq. km area around Wuntho Massif, spread over Banmauk Tsp, in Sagaing Region, to explore for Gold-Silver-Copper with other Base Metals and subsequently resort to exploitation of the said metals.   It has been reported that the area under this concession also hosts REM (Rare Earth Metal) and this fact has been kept under wrap. This should be one of the cause of main concern because the vital role of REM in the future high tech industry is now well known and so is the overwhelming dominance of China in the REM global trade.
Apart from REM (Rare Earth Metal), the other associated minerals with Gold, Silver or Copper & other Base Metal sulphides could be Germanium, & Gallium which are the raw materials for Semiconductor chips be in this project. PANAUST would hold 90% interest in the Concession while the local company would only hold 10% interest. The two major issues which cause nagging concern are the ignoring of the rights of the local small artisans, displacement, loss of livelihood, & physical and chemical degradation of land forms ecosystem and hence, there is a need of people's participation in asserting the need for equitable distribution of natural resources for exploitation and ensure that there is no damage to the ecosystem. Anyone travelling to Myanmar and interacting with some local people and going through the news papers in Myanmar would learn that there is resentment among the local commune against the proposed project of mining for Cu-Au in Wuntho Massif zone of Sagaing Region in Myanmar by WRCL (read PANAUST) who are representative of Government of China. There is already resentment against its operational Letpandaung & S&K Copper projects in the same Sagaing Region. There is need for the local Myanmar people to be cautious about the issues of environmental concern that have been reportedly raised by some NGOs in Myanmar as well as in not too far, in Papua New Guinea and Laos that are part of the Ring of Fire. This supposedly Australian company has acquired large concessions for Cu-Au-Ag in the neighbouring Laos & Papua New Guinea also.
One of Cu-Au Mining project in Papua New Guinea is Frieda River Project but is being opposed by a people's group called Project Sepik and its Project Coordinator Emmanuel Peni is leading the campaign. One of the major issue that has angered the people is that the key features in the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) of the project has not been made public. The same thing has been done in Myanmar also. The people in Wuntho region have been kept in dark about the likely damage to their ecosystem due to the clandestine activities of the Dragon. The track record of the Chinese company in Papua New Guinea brought by Andrew Moutu in public domain through his article in The National, states that the company released untreated toxic waste from the mine water and the mineral processing into the Sepik River basin. The ultimate damage would be done to the amazing endemic variety of Flora & Fauna of Sepik river system which is compared with that of Nile & Amazon. The mining project area falls in the middle and upper reaches of Sepik river basin and is being considered for inclusion in the UNESCO World heritage list.
Similarly, PANAUST has entered into a JV company partnership with the Govt of Laos where in the PANAUST HOLDS 90% interest and the Government of Laos holds 10 % interest. Thus it is the Chinese Government that holds major stake. Under this partnership they have setup a couple of JV companies like Phu Bia Mining Ltd., Phu Kham Mine, Etc., Here too, the private NGOs report that the toxic effluents would be charged with Cyanide compounds. Keeping the contempt which the Chinese companies have for the ecosystem of the country where they are in the process of extraction, it would be prudent for people of Myanmar to safe guard the sensitive components of their country's Ecosystem like social security, livelihood, forest cover, wetlands, etc., Another classic case of clandestine activities of the Dragon in Myanmar has been in the coastal tracts of Rakhine State since very early 2000s. Titanium minerals and other strategic minerals which were hitherto, unknown to be occurring in Myanmar is now reported to be hosted in the Beach sand of Rakhine state and have hence caught the attention of the Chinese companies who have carried out exploration around Rathedaung Tsp, Angumaw coastal belt, in the Rakhine state for almost 7 years before 2013. They were given permission by the local state government. This venture by the Chinese met with local public resentment and the investigation was reportedly closed but it took off again in perhaps 2010.
("BNI MULTI-MEDIA GROUP) reported on 28th January 2016 in Narinja that a Burmese company, backed by the Chinese government started exploratory studies to evaluate the presence & reserves of Titanium & Aluminum (?) minerals in the heavy mineral sand of Arakan coast. U Maung Maung, chief administrator of Rathidaung Township said: "The company will examine the  mineral sands from the shore near to Ma Kyi Chung in Rathidaung Township.") The special interest of China in the HMBS resources of Rakhine State should have been looked into very carefully because it gives the Dragon the access to not only the highly touted strategic metal Titanium but also some other equally highly strategic metals, which were never disclosed. A discussion with a Geologist suggest that the HMS of that beach could also contain either Monazite / Xenotime / Bastenesite, which are source materials for REMs.
A brief report on the "Chinese Investment in Myanmar-A scoping study...," prepared by the Global Environmental Institute (GEI), was studied to get an insight of the activities of the Chinese companies in Myanmar under their Investment programme in that country. The Chinese companies who have preferred investments are the State owned Chinese companies who have tied up with the Govt of Myanmar Enterprises (under MONREC). The Chinese companies listed in the Report do not figure in any mining or exploration activities in Rakhine State and also their target minerals include Cu & other Base metals, Au, Sn, W, Coltan, but does not include HMBS or limenite. While on the other hand the ground truth informs that small unlisted or unknown Chinese companies like Ray Myaeshin, Yemyaeshin, Shwe Shepway, (meaning Gold finder in Burmese) had prospecting in 2007 and they got one year permit from the Ministry of Mines. The profile of these unlisted companies are not found in public domain. It was reported that the samples were taken to Beijing and elsewhere for mineralogical and chemical test but the results were never made available to the public domain.
According to a report titled "Western Burma State Government Mining Projects ......" written by Ms. Nyein Nyein, Senior Reporter in the Irrawaddy on 7th October 2013, a Chinese firm Shwe Shepweye & Luxembourg firm (Boulle Mining Group) were granted permit for mining of Al & Ti deposits in the beach sand located in Northern Rakhine by the Regional Government. These deposits are along Rathedaung & Maungdaw Township. The owner of the Luxembourg firm, Jean Raymand Boulle, is a controversial person with complaints about his business practices by a U.N Panel. Wunlatt Foundation - a Civil Society group, objected to the project by the Chinese in a shady way but one of the minister from the Region was in favour of the project. Post Covid-19, the trade war between the two greatest economies will intensify and it will be interest of Myanmar to tread the path of a secure sovereignty & integrity and not go the Tibet or Hong Kong way or face problem which Sri Lanka faces due to Hambantota port with respect to China. Myanmar must read the Middle Kingdom Syndrome of the Dragon under which it wants to develop a Sino centric world order through its BRI platform. The war against the present Sino centric world order has started leading to the formation of new Resilient Supply chains as a part of new world order involving India-Japan-Australia  (SCRI) and a few others like France, Germany. And Myanmar may be a key stepping stone in the new multi-lateralist endeavour that will not only put choke on the BRI of the Dragon but also the strengthen the 3 Cs( Connectivity, Commerce & Cultural Commonality) with India as well as with other friendly nations. It will be a win-win platform for both Myanmar and India.
The author is a Consultant Geologist and may be reached on mail id [email protected]