On April 20, 2008, about 100 farmers in China’s Yunnan Province gathered to protest and record the appropriation of their land by a government-owned mining company. Yunnan police opened fire on the farmers, killing one and seriously injuring six others. Those left standing they attacked with batons. Dozens were hauled away for interrogation.
On December 14, 2009, Yunnan Chihong Zinc and Germanium Co. Ltd. announced its purchase of 50 per cent of the Selwyn project, a lead-zinc mine in Howard’s Pass, near the Yukon/NWT border. The majority owner of Yunnan Chihong Zinc and Germanium Co. Ltd. is the province of Yunnan.
Chinese investment in the Yukon mining industry didn’t just happen. Economic Development Minister Jim Kenyon has led five trade delegations there in five years, and Chinese investors have returned the visits with trade missions to the Yukon, including an August 2009 tour of mines and prospective mines in the territory. On his October 2009 trip, Kenyon signed a letter of intent to create a sister agreement with the province of Shaanxi.
In 2007, journalist Fu Zhenzhong uncovered a massive slavery ring in Shaanxi. Thousands of abducted children were labouring in brick kilns, where they were beaten and whipped to increase their productivity. Local and provincial officials were found to be in collusion with the slavers. A handful were prosecuted and their punishments included warnings and temporary suspensions from work.
Tales of human rights abuses in China, and particularly in Shaanxi, abound. Execution is commonplace, and while some provinces now employ mobile lethal-injection vans, others still shoot victims in the head. The religious organization Falun Dafa asserts that Shaanxi Province sells kidneys from victims of capital punishment.
Farming is not a major industry in the Yukon, and there are no peasants here to protest when their lands are appropriated for the construction of mines. However, we do have an indigenous population with a large stake in the disposition of Yukon lands. And like the farmers of Shaanxi, Yukon First Nations find themselves sidelined when governments and mining companies get together.
Last August, Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Andy Carvill told the Yukon News, “We strive to build a good collaborative relationship with the government, but when it comes to these little adventures and these business-seeking missions (to China), we’re left out of the loop.”
Mining is the Yukon’s largest private-sector employer. A costly business, it relies on large investors for startup and operations costs. From a strictly economic point of view, it makes sense to encourage the Chinese to invest here. The question arises, what weight do we give to other concerns, such as First Nations’ rights, and the human rights record of investors?
Or, to put it another way, how desperate are we? Until they are mined, the Yukon’s minerals are public property. In order for the public to realize the benefits of that property, private mining companies have to find investors.
Yukoners for the most part are in favour of mining, so long as it’s well regulated. We know the money must be found somewhere, but there’s money, and then there’s blood money, and Chinese investment falls squarely into the latter category. So just how vigorously do we expect our government to pursue blood money on our behalf?
When Stephen Harper first became prime minister of Canada, he annoyed both Chinese and Canadian business executives by raising the issue of human rights abuses. Lately, he’s learned to tone down the rhetoric and let the money flow.
What does this mean? Do Canadians simply not care who we do business with? Is it full-speed ahead and damn the child-slaves?
Or are governments pursuing an agenda with which the majority of citizens wouldn’t agree? It’s been said that you can pick your friends, but not your family. Sisterhood with Shaanxi is a matter of choice. Before we commit ourselves, Yukoners need to consider whether we want a sister who shoots people and sells their kidneys, and turns a blind eye to child slavery.
Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.