The decade of the dragon

All eyes are on China this week as Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his delegation of bigwigs feast on Beijing duck and flatter Communist party comrades.

All eyes are on China this week as Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his delegation of bigwigs feast on Beijing duck and flatter Communist party comrades.

It may be half a world away, but the tie between the two countries is more important than ever to the Yukon.

In just 10 short years, China has become a major player in the territory’s economy.

Its red-and-yellow flag now flutters in the northern wind at more than a few sites in the territory.

The relationship is pretty straightforward.

China needs the Yukon’s raw resources. The Yukon needs China’s buckets of cash.

The same scenario is playing out across the country and around the world.

China’s insatiable appetite for zinc, lead, copper, gold, gas and other treasures that lie beneath the land means the Asian dragon is not likely to lose interest in the North anytime soon.

The Yukon was among the first to catch the China wave.

Almost as soon as it was first elected in 2002, the Yukon Party went to work to woo investment from Asia.

Former Economic Development minister Jim Kenyon marched off to China many times, mining moguls in tow, to chat up the territory’s potential.

If the government had any qualms about that country’s environmental, labour and human rights records, it certainly didn’t say so.

And eventually its persistence paid off.

Today there’s a list of Chinese companies involved in the Yukon’s resource industry and it just keeps growing.

The first and most significant investment was the Wolverine zinc-lead deposit in the Ross River area. In 2008 the Jinguicheng Molybdenum Group and Northwest Nonferrous International Investment Company bought out Yukon Zinc and went to work developing the prospect.

It was a bit of a test case and has had its ups and down.

The deaths of two workers put things behind schedule, but work carried on and the company now hopes to reach full production this spring.

Then there’s the Howard’s Pass lead-zinc deposit. When Selwyn Resources wanted to move that project forward, it turned to China. In 2010, it signed a deal with Yunnan Chihong Zinc & Germanium, which dropped $100 million to get things rolling.

The Skukum gold mine south of Whitehorse also has a China connection. Last year, ownership changed from Yukon-Shaanxi Mining to Pacific Metals Corp. One of its key shareholders, Silvercorp Metals, has projects in China as well.

Most recently, China’s third largest oil company has stepped in to finance Northern Cross and its exploration for oil and gas in the Eagle Plains basin.

Many more deals and potential deals are likely in the works.

The Yukon even has a sister province in China’s interior, Shaanxi.

All in all, the relationship with China has been good for the Yukon economy.

But as the list of major projects continues to grow, it’s seems to be high time to put more thought into the long-term implications of foreign influence on Yukon policy and development.

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