On a recent trip to Mongolia, I found the place filthy with miners. I rarely come into contact with people in the mining industry, but I often read about their exploits, usually in the Wall St. Journal, The New York Times, and The Economist. So much of global politics is about competition for resources that I’ve always thought it was wise to pay attention to the aims and strategies of those tasked with acquiring and processing them. I definitely want to know what a mining executive thinks about political and economic realities, for the same reason I read the business press.
On the flight into Ulaanbaatar, I sat next to a Canadian miner employed by an Australian company, who was in the Gobi helping to set up a copper mine. He told me lots of interesting things about transnational mining companies doing business in the region. It’s mostly Chinese, Russian, Korean and French companies, and selling what’s under the ground is basically the only real business in Mongolia, though they’ll be happy to sell you a cashmere sweater or a variety of felted wool products as well:
On my flight out, I sat next to an American mining executive on his way from gold mining in Mongolia to an oil drilling gig in Kazakhstan. This second executive talked a lot about the backstory of the mining business, about corruption and bribery, and he claimed that “risk averse” U.S. and European mining companies were losing out in the resource wars. He spoke of some sordid realities of the mining business and shared stories about Nigeria, Mexico and… Afghanistan.
Afghanistan? Did the U.S. have mining operations in Afghanistan? Not exactly. But were we in the mining business in Afghanistan? Absolutely, in a manner of speaking.
“Oh yeah,” the mining executive said, leaning in confidingly: “The Chinese just won the largest copper mining bid in the world after bribing a bunch of Afghan officials, but that’s not even the worst part.” He paused for dramatic effect, then continued: “The worst part is that it’s the U.S. providing military protection for the Chinese to do it!”
Interesting. Once I got back, I started looking into U.S-China-Afghanistan relations, and found that this guy was basically speaking the truth: Continue reading