Vietnam environmental review of Chinese-run bauxite mines stalled

Hanoi – Vietnam’s environment minister completed a fact-finding visit to controversial bauxite mines, but officials said Monday no progress has been made on a promised environmental
review of the projects.

Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Pham Khoi Nguyen visited several active and proposed bauxite mines in Vietnam’s Central Highlands region last week. The mines, to be operated by the Chinese state-owned Aluminium Corporation of China Limited, have drawn public criticism for environmental and security reasons.

In late April Vietnam’s Politburo, the Communist Party’s governing body, ordered the projects frozen pending an environmental impact report.

But Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Le Duong Quang told the German Press Agency dpa no progress had been made on the report.

‘We plan to produce this report, but we have not decided to assign it to any specific agencies,’ Quang said.

Quang said the bauxite projects had been approved before a new law requiring environmental impact reports. He said the agency had been unable to meet Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s 2007 request for an environmental report on the mines.

‘We could not produce this report because at that time, we did not have any money to carry it out,’ Quang said.

Doan Van Kien, chairman of the Vietnam National Coal-Mineral Industries Group (VINACOMIN), a partner in the mining projects, said his company was not responsible for researching the environmental impact of the Chinese-run projects.

National Assembly deputy Nguyen Lan Dung, a biologist who has criticized the proposed mines, praised the government’s response to the issue despite the lack of progress on a study.

During a visit to the port city of Haiphong Saturday, Dung was confronted by citizens concerned about the bauxite projects and promised a strict review for environmental impact and to ensure they created jobs for Vietnamese workers.

Scientists have criticized the bauxite projects on environmental grounds. Bauxite mining generates five tons of caustic red sludge for each ton of aluminum ore it produces.

Other critics, including revered 97-year-old General Vo Nguyen Giap, have focused on what they term the national security risk of allowing Chinese companies access to the strategically important Central Highlands.

Still others have complained that the Chinese companies are importing thousands of unskilled Chinese laborers rather than hiring local Vietnamese workers.

The Politburo’s directive in April mandated that imported labor be confined to highly skilled workers and that unskilled jobs go to Vietnamese locals.

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