Myanmar: Illegal rare-earth mining in Kachin State on China's border rises since coup

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Naypyitaw [Myanmar], April 29 (ANI): Illegal mining of rare earth minerals have surged in Myanmar's northern Kachin state on the Chinese border after the February 1 coup, local media reported.

Mining has increased at least five times in Pangwa and Chipwi townships amid Myanmar's political turmoil, with a rapid influx of Chinese workers, The Irrawaddy reported citing environmental groups.

"Before the coup, we only saw one or two trucks per day. Now there is no proper inspection we are seeing 10 to 15," an activist in Chipwi told The Irrawaddy.

He said the trucks are loaded with ammonium sulphate fertilizer bags filled at illegal mines.

"The Chinese authorities have tightened border security for imports from Myanmar due to COVID-19. But materials for the mining move across the border easily," he added. It must be noted that China has been accused of aiding Myanmar junta following the coup

The rare earth elements (REE) are a set of seventeen metallic elements. These 17 strategic elements are vital for the production of anything ranging from laptops, electric car batteries to missile guiding systems and lasers.

Heavy rare earth from Kachin State is exported to China for refining and processing and then sold around the globe, according to environmental protection groups.

So far China has exercised a virtual monopoly on processing rare earth elements. Amid deteriorating relations with the United States, Beijing has signalled that Washington may be denied supply of the minerals produced in China.

Myanmar is China's largest rare earth source, accounting for over half of its supplies. In 2016, Chinese mining companies entered Pangwa looking for rare earth as Beijing cracked down on illegal mining within China.

According to Chinese customs data, China is heavily dependent on medium and heavy rare earth from Myanmar. Myanmar became China's largest importer in 2018.

In 2020, rare earth imports from Myanmar rose by 23 per cent year on year to around 35,500 tons, accounting for 74 per cent of imports, according to the Global Times government mouthpiece.

Ja Hkaw Lu of the Transparency and Accountability Network Kachin (TANK) told The Irrawaddy: "Under the civilian government if we complained about illegal rare earth mining, officials immediately visited and investigated. [Illegal miners] stayed away but now it is totally out of control."

She added: "Currently, vehicles carrying heavy rare earth leave day and night. The situation is getting worse. There has been an influx of Chinese miners." (ANI)