South Korea’s Electronic Times (전자신문) carried a piece by geologist Sung-Won Park (박성원) two weeks ago where he highlights the need for the country to get involved in untapping Greenland’s mineral resources, specifically due to the island’s “abundant rare-earth deposits”. Hi-tech industries in Korea depend on imports for important REE-based components, says Park, making actively exploring for the elements a necessity for the country. “Among Arctic regions, REE-rich Greenland is where we should be focusing most of our attention.”
Mr Park, a researcher at South Korea’s Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources (KIGAM, 한국지질자원연구원) Mineral Resources Research Division, has been involved in geological research in Greenland for several years. KIGAM and its local counterpart, the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS) signed an agreement to start joint research in 2012, during then-president Lee Myung-bak’s visit to the island. Talking to Greenland’s state-owned broadcaster KNR in 2013, Park was particularly enthusiastic about the REE potential in Kvanefjeld, one of the areas where the Korean team had been working.
Korea’s national miner KORES has been conducting joint exploration at the Qeqertaasaq REE+Nb project with NunaMinerals, whose prospects are now uncertain with the Greenlandic company still on the verge of bankruptcy.
South Korea’s ambassador to Denmark Ma Young-sam 마영삼 was in Greenland last week in an official visit, during which he met with government ministers charged with foreign affairs, industry and natural resources, as well as with representatives from seafood producer Royal Greenland. There was talk of increasing cooperation in mining and fisheries (Sermitsiaq).
A more urgent concern than such future prospects is surely Korean state-owned miner KORES’ investment in the Qeqertaasaq REE+Nb project. KORES has been exploring at the site in partnership with Greenland’s state-owned NunaMinerals, a company in rather serious financial trouble that filed for bankruptcy. Talking to Greenlandic public broadcaster KNR, Ma said the Koreans are keeping a “close eye” on their country’s first investment in Greenland, since “many other Korean companies want to invest big in Greenland”.
Soon after Ma’s visit, news emerged that NunaMinerals are withdrawing their bankruptcy petition based on optimism about ongoing restructuring talks with Greenland Mining Management (GMM), a new-ish UK company seemingly wholly owned by Patrick Newman, a businessman who has been involved in a number of mining companies with interests in Greenland and elsewhere. GMM are proposing to invest in Nuna with an eye to the latter then making an offer for investment group Worthington, suspended from trading in London in Oct ’14 after an ambitious investment plan attracted regulatory attention as amounting to a reverse takeover. Worthington’s shopping spree included a stake in Greenland Rare Earth Projects (GREP), also led by Mr Newman, who hold an exploration license for the REE+Nb+Ta+U Paatusoq project in southeast Greenland.
South Korean interest in Greenland was displayed rather spectacularly in 2012, when then-president Lee Myung-Bak visited the island. The KORES-Nuna Qeqertaasaq exploration agreement goes back to Lee’s visit.
Ambassador Ma’s visit to Greenland appears to have gone unnoticed by the South Korean press, but Korean attention on the fate of KORES Greenlandic investment has been evidenced by news items on the website of the ministry of foreign affairs and other sources, as I reported a couple of weeks ago.
More attention has been dispensed to Mr Ma’s parallel career as an international ping-pong referee, in which capacity he took part in the ping pong championship in Suzhou, China, some ten days before heading to Greenland. An Chosun article compares him to Bao Zheng 包拯, a Song dynasty judge with a semi-legendary reputation for impartiality and the subject of a number of Chinese TV series that have enjoyed some popularity in South Korea. Ma Young-sam’s diplomatic career began in the Middle East.
A terse news item on the website of South Korea’s ministry of foreign affairs states that the Qeqertaasaq rare earth, niobium and tantalum project near Maniitsoq in western Greenland is “expected to be delayed” now that Greenlandic state-owned firm NunaMinerals has filed for bankruptcy. NunaMinerals and Korean state-owned miner KORES (한국광물자원공사) agreed to jointly explore the site and started drilling last year.
South Korean SOEs invested heavily in natural resource projects abroad, sometimes as part of a ‘resource diplomacy’ policy during president Lee Myung-bak’s administration. These investments have become a source of controversy after a government audit that became public not a month ago questioned their profitability and suggested already scheduled investments could put these companies, that include KORES, in financial trouble. The agreement between Nuna and KORES was signed during Lee Myung-bak’s visit to Greenland in September 2012.
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.
I’ve written about Jiangxi Copper’s Greenland project, in a longish article last year, then in an update two months ago.