Despite an eighteen-month ban on bauxite mining, reports indicate that exports of the ore to the People’s Republic of China are on the rise, provoking public ire aimed at miners who are evading the ban.
Mining of bauxite was halted two weeks into 2016 due to irresponsible mining and storage practices carried out by certain miners in the region, but exports of the bauxite already harvested was allowed to continue in order to clear stockpiles at ports such as Kuantan. However, according to import data from China, Malaysia has exported over nine million metric tons of ore to the Middle Kingdom while stockpiles in Malaysia have scarcely dwindled.
“For the last six months, we’ve received reports from residents about the presence of fresh excavations… That is why the volumes of the stockpiles do not go down,” said Kuantan’s MP Fuziah Salleh.
“We will still be contaminated with the dust and erosion of stockpiles into the water.”
Malaysia was for a short time the top exporter of bauxite to China, filling the void left after Indonesia enacted its own ban on bauxite exports in early 2014. Shipments tapered off in December, totaling 165,587 metric tons, but the numbers have stormed back to a total of 719,614 metric tons in the month of May.
Local residents have witnessed firsthand the failure of the ban as well, with reports that bauxite deliveries to the port of Kuantan reached a fever pace in October.
“The bauxite goes out at irregular hours, from day to night,” a local Kuantan resident identified as Ibrahim said to Reuters. “There are no fewer than 200 truck delivery trips a day from the mining sites to the port. How can the stockpiles go down like that?”
Experts say the ban has largely been ineffective, citing the nearly irresistible pull from China. There’s little hope for the ban’s success as long as that remains the case, too.
While recognizing that stockpiles have largely remain unchanged over the course of the ban, natural resources and environment minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar would not comment upon the possibility of a blanket ban on exports.
“I’m concerned only on the environmental impact of the mining activities, and to ultimately stop it will impact the economy of the state,” he said. “To stop bauxite mining means to jeopardize the state economy and thousands of people involved in the industry.”