Kachin: Hike in illegal mining of rare minerals, supported by China
Since last year's coup, mining activity in northern Myanmar has increased fivefold. Toxic and radioactive waste amounts to millions of tonnes. Regulation of the industry is almost impossible due to the presence of a militia affiliated with the Burmese regime.
Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - In the northern state of Kachin, the extraction of rare minerals that are exported to China has increased fivefold thanks to the complicity of a militia close to the Burmese regime.
The independent website The Irrawaddy reports in Pangwa, Chipwi municipality -the influx of Chinese workers into the region has increased following the February 2021 military coup that ousted the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
Rare minerals are a group of minerals needed for the production of advanced technologies, including electric cars, smartphones, wind turbines and fighter planes. With the increasing demand for high-tech products, rare earth deposits have become paramount: their production is almost entirely controlled by China, which is the leading source globally, followed by the US and Myanmar.
But mineral extraction, if unregulated, pollutes the environment heavily: there are Chinese studies dating back to the 1990s that document the ecological damage caused by illegal mining.
Beijing has been mining rare minerals in northern Myanmar since 2016 after banning illicit activities within its borders: today, more than half of the minerals arriving in China come from the former Myanmar, with a year-on-year increase of around 23%. Already in 2018, Myanmar was the main supplier of rare earths to China. According to official Chinese sources, between May 2017 and October 2021, Myanmar exported 140 thousand tonnes of rare earths worth more than billion.
Myanmar environmentalists claim that there are about a hundred mines in the north of the country, all under the control of Chinese investors and the New Democratic Army Kachin (NDA-K), a militia affiliated with the Burmese army. In 2009, it was renamed the Border Guard Force by Burmese generals.
Between 2019 and 2020, several illegal mines had been found by the Kachin Mining Department: officials explained that the presence of armed groups on the border had always made it difficult to regulate the industry. The previous civilian government had twice shut down all activities in 2019, but with the return of the military junta to power, they have since resumed.
According to some estimates, between May 2017 and October 2021, Myanmar hosted 284 million tonnes of toxic waste and 14 million tonnes of radioactive waste. For dozens of Burmese villages on the Chinese border, soil and groundwater are unusable due to mining.