Soon after visiting the NFC-built aluminium smelter in Pavlodar, Kazakhstan, Wang Hongqian 王宏前, the company’s GM, flew to Iceland to sign an agreement with local company Klappir Development about plans to build a new aluminium smelter in Hafursstaðir, between the villages of Skagaströnd and Blönduós (some 100 km west of Akureyri). Actually, Wang visited the Kazakh smelter a month before going to Iceland, but I just wanted to juxtapose the projects. The Hafursstaðir plant has a planned capacity of 120 tonnes per year, but in a second stage it might eventually reach twice as much, just a bit below that of Pavlodar smelter. PM Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson and Chinese ambassador Zhang Weidong 张卫东 were present at the signature. NFC (有色股份) is the largest listed subsidiary of state-owned integrated miner China Nonferrous.
The agreement is being called a letter (‘statement’) of intent (viljayfirlýsing) by Icelandic media and an MOU (谅解备忘录) by the Chinese embassy. Whichever the case, we might assume the agreement is non-binding, given that the project’s feasibility depends on securing electricity from nearby power plants, for which it must compete with other, more advanced projects. Icelandic reports talk of a turnkey deal for which NFC would help muster 70% of the financing from ‘Chinese and other’ banks. The Chinese embassy simply says NFC will conduct a feasibility study and then talk again.
Landvernd, an environmental NGO, are firmly against the idea. Nearby municipalities are OK with it, likely looking forward to the 240 permanent jobs the smelter would create.
Klappir has been trying to get NFC involved in building an Al smelter in Iceland for more than two years. Ma ‘Blubbermouth’ Jisheng 马继生, the previous Chinese ambassador and apparetly a Japanese spy, had welcomed the negotiations during a 2013 meeting with Klappir’s owner Ingvar Unnsteinn Skúlason.
There are already three aluminium smelters in Iceland. In 2013, the aluminium industry accounted for 35% of the country’s exports of goods and more than two thirds of its electricity consumption.
China Nonferrous is also involved in mining in Greenland, through agreements with Ironbark for the Citronenfjord zinc project and with Greenland Minerals and Energy for the Kvanefjeld uranium and rare-earth mine, where a pilot plant has already yielded some concentrate.
Japan’s ambassador to Iceland Mitsuko Shino 志野光子 hosted her Chinese counterpart Zhang Weidong 张卫东 in a courtesy visit two weeks ago.
Both diplomats are recent appointments, in Mr Zhang’s case because his predecessor, Ma ‘Blubbermouth‘ Jisheng 马继生, was defrocked and reportedly detained for spying for Ms Shino’s country.
We mark this slow-news day by pointing to a Xinhua article about what Zhang Weidong 张卫东, the newly appointed Chinese ambassador to Iceland, said at a reception in Reykjavík meant to celebrate China’s National Day.
Mr Zhang praised the friendly relations between the two countries and emphasised that Iceland was the first European country to sign a free trade agreement with China, in effect since July 1.
He doesn’t seem to have said much about his predecessor loose lips. Ma ‘Blubbermouth‘ Jisheng 马继生, the previous envoy, is accused of having leaked state secrets to Japan. He worked there for some time under then-ambassador Wang Yi 王毅, who has since become the foreign minister.
The post of Chinese ambassador to Iceland, vacant since its previous holder, Ma Jisheng 马继生, left for China last January and was allegedly detained there under suspicion of providing state secrets to Japan, has now been filled. The new ambassador, Zhang Weidong 张卫东, has previously worked in Canada and the Federated States of Micronesia, a US associated state. There’s no indication that he spied for anyone while there.
Ma Jisheng, who once worked with current foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei 洪磊, allegedly gave classified information to Japan while working there under Wang Yi 王毅, then ambassador in Tokyo and now foreign minister.
Zhang arrived in Reykjavík on the 25th and had his first public appearance at a cultural event organised by the Confucius institute.
I’ve written on Ma Jisheng’s case already, ten days ago.
News that China’s ambassador to Iceland Ma Jisheng 马继生 and his wife Zhong Yue 钟月 have been detained under suspicion of spying for Japan, first released by Hong Kong and overseas Chinese media and then more or less censored on the Chinese Internet, have now got something just short of a confirmation, in the form of an editorial in China’s state-run most firebrand tabloid, the Global Times. Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei 洪磊 is still denying knowing anything about the case.
The spokesman and the disgraced ambassador surely know each other well: they used to be colleagues as vice-directors (副司长) of the Ministry’s information department. Ma Jisheng’s name should also be familiar to the foreign minister, Wang Yi 王毅, as the alleged leaks to Tokyo might well have occurred while Ma served there under Wang, then China’s envoy to Japan.
Such an indication that the spying went right under the current minister’s nose could have been just one more reason to remove Ma’s bio from his embassy’s website once Icelandic media had begun to worry about his absence. The Mas had not returned from their trip to China for Chinese New Year in late January, and Icelandic authorities were at some point notified he was away ‘for personal reasons’ and wasn’t going to come back.
Anyway, Ma’s bio is now up for everyone to read on the People’s Daily‘s website. This and the aforementioned editorial on the Global Times basically amounts to an official admission that the ‘personal reasons’ had less to do with a ‘sick relative‘ than with passing information to Japan, just in the middle of the latest anti-Japanese propaganda campaign.
Affectionately known as the Globule Times, the press organ that carried the editorial on Ma’s mischiefs has a reputation for printing the sort of nationalistic rhetoric more staid Party outlets like the People’s Daily usually tend to avoid. In its columns, Australian foreign minister Julia Bishop has been called a ‘complete fool‘; multiple countries have been warned to ‘prepare for the sound of cannons‘. The writing in its English version goes through the hands of a team of proofreaders, but these aren’t allowed to intervene too much into articles on sensitive topics. Language awkwardness can be taken as an indicator of how high a given article is coming from. The editorial on Ma (‘Be wary of espionage trap surrounding us’) closes thus:
If it is confirmed that Ma has been caught, we hope that his story will one day appear on media to serve as a warning for others.
Japanese media (Kyōdō through Mainichi) also report that another man who served with Ma in Tokyo is also missing since April and could also be under investigation on similar charges.