Mineral finds take pressure off imports

By Li Fangchao (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-01-25 06:51

Geological officials yesterday claimed "heartening" new discoveries of resources which, in two or three years, will reduce China's increasing dependency on mineral imports.

The discoveries include crude oil, iron, copper, and many other resources of strategic importance, announced Meng Xianlai, director of China Geological Survey (CGS), who called for greater reliance on domestic mineral supplies. The organization is a professional unit of the Ministry of Land and Resources.

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He was detailing a comprehensive list of discoveries made since the latest nationwide geological survey was embarked upon in 1999.

"Lack of resources has become a bottleneck for the economy," Meng said. "Our discoveries will alleviate the mounting resources pressure China is facing."

By the end of 2005, the richest class of the new discoveries, 12 types of minerals, were valued at more than 1 trillion yuan ($128 billion).

In total, 747 mineral reserve sites had been discovered by the end of 2005, most notably a series of large-scale sites in the western regions.

According to Meng, "the discoveries prompted us to reconsider the vast potential of China's resources, especially those in the western regions where not much surveying has been done as yet."

Besides the unconfirmed but potentially important crude oil reserves in the Qiangtang Basin of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, one of the most important discoveries was of rich iron ore in Nixiong, in the western part of the Tibet Autonomous Region, with an estimated prospective reserves of 1 billion tons.

The new find "has rewritten the conclusion drawn from China's geological survey in the 1970s that there was no rich iron ore on the Chinese mainland, and may relieve the country's three-decade-long dependency on rich iron ore imports," said Zhang Hongtao, CGS deputy director.

Lean iron ores account for more than 90 percent of China's iron ore reserves.

China is the top iron ore buyer in the world. It imported 326.3 million tons in 2006, and suffered due to the 164 percent price hike between 2004 and 2006.

Another breakthrough, officials said, is the discovery of a copper belt which extends 400 kilometers from west to east along the Yarlung Zangbo River in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Part of the belt, the copper mine at Yulong, has prospective reserves of 14-18 million tons and may become the largest copper mine in the country.

Yulong, not far from the newly built Qinghai-Tibet Railway, could serve as a turning point for Tibet's mining economy, Zhang said.

Construction has begun on another two giant copper mines discovered in Pulang and Yangla in Yunnan Province, officials said, adding that they could begin commercial operations in the next few years.

The three mines, once in commercial production, are likely to yield 300,000 tons of copper, equivalent to a third of the nation's current overall output. Imports account for almost two-thirds of China's copper demand.

(China Daily 01/25/2007 page1)

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