China Takes Its Mineral Looting to New Levels

As China continues to expand in South America, certain local people in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador have resisted and spoken against new investment partnerships over issues of abuse and contamination.

The Details

Bolivia handed the Chinese government 49 percent ownership in its lithium assets, the nation’s biggest, in a $2.3 billion transaction in 2019.

Between 2010 and 2019, China spent $79.2 million in Ecuador to obtain mineral rights, as well as an $80 million investment giving it drilling rights in the Amazon.

China invested $15 billion in Peru’s mining industry, which is the world’s second-largest supplier of copper.

Notwithstanding these enormous economic injections, there is conspicuous underinvestment in communities or facilities, resulting in “imperialism with Chinese traits,” as China–Latin America relations scholar Fernando Menéndez puts it.

China made a major investment deep inside the Bolivian Pantanal, on the peak of El Mutn, which holds one of the world’s greatest iron resources.

Socialist Party President Evo Morales gave the $546 million project to Chinese business Sinosteel, which will start in 2022 after a series of setbacks prevented the firm from making real progress since 2017.

A collection of heavy gear stands loaded on lorries in adjacent Puerto Suárez, waiting to be transported down a muddy road to El Mutn. For other locals, the trucks are a happy occasion since they represent a potential for a better future with Sinosteel.

“Other firms attempted earlier [to excavate], but they were either booted out or failed to extract the iron,” said Desiderio Montano, a resident of the area.

China isn’t the first nation to try to take advantage of Bolivia’s iron reserves. Jindal, an Indian business, pulled out of a deal with Morales’ administration in 2007.

Meanwhile, EBX, a Brazilian corporation, was kicked out of the same government in 2006 for seeking to illegally access the mineral wealth.

As per Montano, Sinosteel’s coming is a godsend because of the employment and infrastructures it will provide to Puerto Suárez and neighboring Puerto Quijarro, Bolivia.

It’s NOT About Investment

China’s operations in South America, however, follow a particular pattern, according to Menéndez; they’re tightly limited, spending nothing in local communities further than the reach of their earnings.

“It’s how you get paved highways in the midst of nowhere, with next to no civilian population. They put in a small amount, but take a lot,” he told the Epoch Times.

Bolivians have such a love-hate relationship with China when it regards cooperating.

The Chinese enterprise Xinjiang TBEA Group hires indigenous employees for the most difficult activities, which require long hours at extremely high altitudes for little remuneration, on the country’s enormous salt flats.

Miguel Flores, who lives more than 12,000 feet from outside Uyuni, Bolivia, told the Epoch Times he had one of the better-paying jobs, working for a Chinese lithium business.

“I’m a truck driver. I labor seven days in a row before having seven days off,” Flores explained. He claims working as a driver is preferable to labor in other areas of the extraction project; although he still works 12-hour days.