MAC: Mines and Communities

China Update

Published by MAC on 2006-03-22

China Update

22nd March 2006

In a new report, pointing to "contradictions" in China's coal "safety" policy, Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin calls for a new workers' organisation which would break down the "fortress mentality" of both officials and mine owners.

China's top environmental body has released what China Watch in Beijing terms a "tentative" proposal for public participation in assessing the impacts of future projects. But it's still a long, long march away from enabling communities to exercise any degree of prior informed consent.

After failing to take over Canada's oldest mining company, Noranda, in 2005, China's state-owned Minmetals has set up a new joint venture with South Korea's Korea Resources Corporation.

New CLB Research Report on Coal Mine Safety Management in China

by China Labour Bulletin (Hong Kong)

16th March 2006

China's central government carried out an unprecedented review and revamping of coal mine safety regulations in 2005, in which it raised the standards required of national work safety supervisory bodies, closed mines around the country that did not have adequate safety provision, required government officials who had invested in coal mines to sell their holdings, and punished officials and mine owners found responsible for major mining accidents.

Despite these efforts, accidents in China's coal mines were again the focus of the media throughout 2005. The number of coal mine accidents in which 10 people or more died rose by 70.6 percent in China in 2005, compared with the previous year, and the total number of those who died in these accidents jumped by 253 percent. Accidents in which 30 people or more died rose by 57.1 percent and the total number of those who died leaped by 97.3 percent. The facts clearly show that government measures have been woefully inadequate. What are the reasons for this?

In a new report on China's coal mining safety management policies, CLB points out that a serious conflict has arisen between the voracious market demand for coal and the effective implementation of government reforms aimed at improving coal mine safety. By simply closing unsafe coal mines when the market demand for coal remains high, the government in effect ensures that the remaining mines will end up operating at well above their safe production capacity, which in turn leads to fresh mining disasters. In other words, government policy is caught in a vicious cycle of its own making. Another fundamental problem is the widespread collusion between local government officials and mine owners, which further hinders mine safety policy implementation.

In this report, CLB addresses the mine safety problem from a new angle – the value of the coal miner's life – and investigates what should be the real basis of coal mine safety management policies. CLB believes that the main weakness in current government policies on coal mine safety is that they place insufficient value on miners' lives. What is required is an effective workers' organisation – either miners' health and safety committees, or active trade unions in the mines – which would break down, from the inside, the 'fortress mentality' that officials and mine owners have set up to protect their own interests.

The report is laid out in three parts. In the first, we analyse the data on coal mine accidents in China and give a summary of the central government's policies and measures to prevent coal mine accidents. The second part considers the reasons why government policies have failed, starting from the economic and social realities in China today. The third section looks at China's coal mining accidents from a workers' rights point of view and emphasizes the need for coal miners to play an active role in monitoring their own safety underground. Lastly, CLB provides a series of recommendations on how to reduce and halt accidents in the country's coal mines.

The report is currently being translated into English.

SEPA Releases New Measure on Public Participation in Environmental Impact Assessment Process

by Yingling Liu, China Watch, BEIJING

24th February 2006

The State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), China’s top environmental body, has released a tentative measure on public involvement in the nation’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process. The ruling, made public on February 22, is the outcome of nearly four months of deliberation following circulation of an early draft for public comment in November. It may see further revision as SEPA receives additional feedback.

The regulation is the first in China to encourage broad public participation in environmental issues. It clarifies the rights and obligations of the public, developers, and environmental groups in the EIA process and outlines five specific vehicles for public participation: opinion surveys, consultations, seminars, debates, and hearings. Among other mandates, project developers or their commissioned EIA agents are required to represent a broad range of regions, occupations, and expertise when selecting individuals or groups to review their reports. They are also required to make these assessments clear, concise, and widely available to the public.

The new measure, which takes effect March 18, has won general applause from environmentalists, who believe it provides the public with a concrete channel for participation. Just one day after its release, some 30 non-governmental activists, academic experts, and journalists held an informal seminar to discuss the regulation’s significance, as well as room for improvement. Environmentalists are concerned, for instance, that the proposed public comment period on EIA reports—currently a minimum of 10 days—is too short to ensure adequate public participation. They also raised skepticism about an exemption for projects deemed to be “state secrets,” worried that this term would likely be abused by developers to shun their environmental responsibilities. A possible way to avoid any manipulation, they suggest, is to make public the formal State Council documents that grant such status.

Public participation has long been neglected in China’s EIA process. The first national environmental protection and livelihood index, released earlier this year, revealed that while Chinese people are generally concerned about environmental issues, they are less enthusiastic about participating in these causes. Only 6.3 percent of individuals surveyed took part in environmental activities over the previous three months, and more than 80 percent of respondents were unaware of the existence of the nation’s free phone hotline for reporting environmental problems.

SEPA believes this low participation is not an indication of the public’s lack of awareness, but rather reflects the absence of an effective mechanism for public action. “Many large plans and projects that exert huge influence on the environment began construction through ‘black box’ operations,” Deputy Director Pan Yue told Nanfang Weekend earlier this month. “The public didn’t know the information, and had no channel to voice their opinion. Public interests have been encroached by some interest groups.”

The new measure was initiated to encourage greater transparency in the development process. However, as is so common in China, laws on paper are one thing, while enforcement is another. “The major concern now is how to enforce the measure,” said Wang Jin, Professor at Peking University’s Environmental and Resources Law Institute, at the February 23 seminar. “It involves large amounts of labor, resources, and funds, which I’m afraid that SEPA doesn’t have sufficient supply of at this moment.”

It is in this void that environmental groups and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) could and should fit in, the seminar participants agreed. Jin Jiaman, Executive Director of the Beijing-based Global Environmental Institute, cautions that China’s NGO movement, still in its infancy, has much to learn to promote public participation.

Sheri Liao, President of Global Village of Beijing, one of China’s most pioneering environmental groups, suggested that SEPA build a regular platform for dialogue among representatives from NGOs, academia, and various government departments. She also encouraged NGOs to share information among themselves. “In this way, we can create a dynamic momentum for promoting public participation,” Liao told the seminar group.

South Korea, China to jointly develop mines in Asia

by SEOUL (Reuters)

22nd March 2006

South Korea plans to work with Chinese companies to develop mineral mines in Asia, Seoul's state-run resources agency said on Wednesday.

Resource-poor South Korea, which relies on a steady supply of metals to feed its export-driven economy, is keen to develop mines to take advantage of soaring global metal prices.

"The company plans to set up a joint venture or consortium with Chinese companies including state-owned China Minmetals Corp. to develop gold, silver and zinc resources in China, North Korea and Mongolia," Korea Resources Corporation said in a statement.

Park Yang-soo, president of the corporation, will sign agreements on Thursday with China Minmetals in Beijing.

China Minmetals Group Corp. were not immediately available for comment.

In November, Minmetals agreed to form a coal-mining joint venture in North Korea.

Korea Resources Corporation supports domestic mining and makes overseas investments to secure mineral resources. The agency has been active in China mineral investment and won rights to develop limestone with Chinese companies in the eastern province of Anhui last year.

South Korea, Asia's fourth-largest economy, has to import most of its raw material needs.

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