If you’re looking for an overview of Chinese mining activities in Greenland thorough enough to talk your fellow dinner-party guests into submission, then I know where you can procure one. The University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute Blog has just posted such an overview, titled “Shock and ore“, in which I go over the mining ventures with some degree of Chinese participation, with an emphasis on General Nice, the new owner of the Isua mine.
Alem Kibreab, an high-ranking official from Eritrea’s Ministry of Mines and Energy, paid Sichuan Road and Bridge Group a visit last month. SRBG, though primarily builders of roads and bridges, as their name suggests, also have an interest in mining, specifically in Eritrea, a country where they have been active for quite a few years now.
A year ago, they signed an agreement to look for gold and other metals, and now they are talking about a second exploration project with copper as the main ore. SRBG’s is not the first Chinese mining venture in Eritrea: SFECO‘s gold project is much better known.
This blog doesn’t quite have an Eritrean focus. I often talk about SRBG because, in their capacity as bridge builders, they are building the steelwork for Hålogaland bridge in Norway, the first work of Arctic transportation infrastructure with Chinese involvement that I’m aware of.
The Jiangxi Daily (江西日报) carried a puff piece last week devoted to the aforementioned Bureau (江西有色地质勘查局), who have been exploring for copper, zinc and lead at Jiangxi Copper’s Wegener Halvø site, near Ittoqqortoormiit in eastern Greenland since 2011. The article also mentions the Bureau’s activities in tantalium and niobium exploration, both domestically and in Shakiso, Ethiopia, where a company from Jiangxi (or a duplet of closely connected companies, viz. King-Tan/Kingtai/Jingtai 江西景泰钽业有限公司 and ZCXC/Zhicheng 江西智诚新材料科技有限公司) has been active for some time.
There is both tantalum and niobium in Greenland, e.g. at Ram Resources‘ Motzfeldt Sø project in the south, at NunaMinerals’ Qeqertaasaq rare earth + Nb project near Nuuk, where Korean state-owned miner KORES (한국광물자원공사) has already shown interest, and in Kap Simpson, in an area where Czech company CGRG holds an exploration license, just across from Jiangxi Copper’s Wegener Halvø project. China has a high demand for tantalum and niobium, and Chinese companies have been acquiring stakes in Ta/Nb mines abroad, so it would make sense for them to look for it in Greenland as well.
China’s state-owned Minmetals has finally bought the Las Bambas copper mine in Peru for just short of $6bn. The asset, that could become the world’s third copper mine in a couple of years, had to be sold to get Chinese regulatory approval for Glencore’s takeover of Xstrata, Las Bambas’ owner up to now. There had been talk at some point of an almost unheard-of competition for the mine between Minmetals, Chinalco and even Jiangxi Copper, but the issue was resolved within Chinese state structures and only Minmetals was left to bid unopposed.
Greenland’s deputy FM Kai Holm Andersen and Denmark’s Arctic ambassador are ending a three-day visit to Beijing and Shanghai “to explore possibilities for more cooperation with China”. Mr Andersen made all the right sounds about cooperation in all sort of areas, from culture and education to the presumably more pressing investment in natural resources, between two peoples with “the same ethnic roots“.
Mr Andersen isn’t featured often enough in Chinese media to have a stable Chinese name yet. There’s still some hesitation between Antusheng 安徒生 (as in Hans Christian Andersen) and Andesen 安德森 (as in Chris Andersen).
He mentioned talks with two Chinese mining companies, one of them a copper miner from Jiangxi. Assuming he means Jiangxi Copper, the talking has been going on since 2009 and actual exploration activities started almost three years ago.
The latest newsletter from the Danish and Greenlandic geological survey (GEUS) informs that the exploration license for Jiangxi Copper’s Wegener Halvø site, near Carlsberg Fjord on Greenland’s eastern coast, has been renewed.
Public information about this project typically doesn’t mention Jiangxi Copper by name. In the present case, the 2007 license is said to have been renewed by China-Nordic Mining Ltd (中國北歐礦業有限公司), a Hong Kong company established in 2011, i.e. four years after getting their Greenland license. The license had originally been awarded to London-based Nordic Mining Ltd, which had no known Chinese participation until one of its directors travelled to China in 2009 in search of potential investors. The project attracted enough attention for an influential government think tank to actively tout it to state-owned companies as relevant to the country’s search for natural resources abroad. The involvement of a large company such as Jiangxi Copper was initially not openly publicised: Chinese press enquiries about the background of Jiangxi Zhongrun, at one time a vehicle of Chinese participation in the Carlsberg project, were rejected as veering into the “extremely sensitive“; an interview request from Greenlandic journalists was refused outright. Jiangxi Copper’s participation, talked about since 2009, was reported by Chinese government sources in 2011, then in Greenland some time later (notably after minister Jens-Erik Kierkegaard‘s visit to Jiangxi last November).
On a month-old Greenland government page, the current license holder for the project, HK-based China-Nordic Mining, appears with a C/O address at Jiangxi Zhongrun in Nanchang, the provincial capital. Little has been made known about this Zhongrun: it has been called a “well-known real estate company”, a “private company”, a “genuine” mining company; at any rate, contact data provided for some of these companies point to Wang Suji 王苏吉, a Jiangxi businessman with various interests which indeed include real estate. Mr Wang has of late become a shareholder in Nordic Mining, the British company originally awarded the license (I wrote about the people behind Nordic Mining in my article on the Carlsberg project last year).
Sichuan Road and Bridge Group (SRBG, 四川路桥集团), recently written about in this blog in connection with its first European contract, the Hålogaland bridge in Norway, has been diversifying into a rather different area. Finance and Investment (金融投资报) reported in late October that SRBG will enter a partnership with the Eritrean government to explore for gold and other metals in a 1000 km2 area in the Bisha-Zara region. The exploration phase, expected to last between three and five years, could require an investment of around $33m.
The first major mining project in Eritrea, the Bisha mine, a joint venture between the Eritrean government and Nevsun from Canada, produced gold from 2011 until a few months ago, when it switched to copper. Nevsun has been criticised for relying in its Eritrean partner’s use of conscripts as “forced labour“, a charge the company denied at a subcommittee meeting in the Canadian Parliament. Eritrea had received a $60m Chinese loan to start the Bisha project in 2007.
The much anticipated showdown between the Chinese state’s copper giants bidding for Glencore Xstrata’s Las Bambas site in Peru won’t be happening after all. Or the competition did take place, but in the form of lobbying within state structures. Unnamed sources quoted by Reuters say Chinalco, one of the two top contenders, will not bid for the project, leaving Minmetals as the front runner, presumably with the blessing of the National Development and Reform Commission. Jiangxi Copper, written about in this blog mostly because of their pioneering activities in Greenland, were at some point also said to be bidding for the Peruvian mine, but now it looks like competition between state-owned companies will be prevented. Talk has emerged today of a possible non-Chinese bid, by a group including Newmont and Canada’s Teck Resources. The asset is being sold at all in order for Chinese regulators to approve the takeover of Xstrata by Glencore.
Earlier reports made it unclear whether Jiangxi Copper, China’s largest smelter of the metal, was still on the race to get hold of Glencore-Xstrata’s Las Bambas asset in Peru, but Peruvian media now quote mining minister Merino as asserting that they are indeed bidding. This means no less than three Chinese state-owned miners (Chinalco and Minmetals being the other two) will be competing for the project, worth perhaps $6bn.