BANGKOK—A key member of Vietnam’s parliament says legislators are to discuss a plan to mine bauxite from the Central Highlands region and acknowledges that debate over the project is ongoing.
“The bauxite mining project will be included in the government's social and economic report. Delegates will discuss this for three days,” Nguyen Minh Thuyet, chairman of the National Assembly’s committee on culture, education, and youth, said in an interview.
The National Assembly is set to meet from May 20 in Hanoi.
“The National Assembly has 500 delegates, and opinions differ. So to me, to have the best result, we should let this be discussed at the meeting,” Thuyet, who also sits on the committee on science, technology, and environment, said.
Thuyet’s comments follow a statement to reporters by Tran Dinh Dan, vice chairman of the National Assembly, indicating the legislative body backs the project.
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has called the bauxite mine “a major policy of the party and the state.”
The Vietnamese Politburo has directed state-run Vietnam National Coal and Mineral Industries Group (Vinacomin) to proceed with plans to extract bauxite from Vietnam’s vast reserves.
Vinacomin has contracted a subsidiary of Chinalco, a state-owned Chinese mining group, to build one mine and agreed with Alcoa, an U.S. aluminum producer, to carry out a feasibility study for another.
Meanwhile, Vietnamese authorities have removed from a Web site promoting Sino-Vietnamese cooperation—such as the bauxite mine—articles defending China's claim to an island chain also claimed by Vietnam.
According to the official media, Vietnam's industry and trade vice minister, Bui Xuan Khu, has said he failed to monitor the Web site closely enough.
The site, www.vietnamchina.gov.vn, was launched in 2006 as a joint trade promotion portal.
China's trade ministry has recently posted content on it defending Beijing's claims to sovereignty over two disputed island chains, the Spratlys and Paracels.
Vietnamese blogs and newspaper reacted sharply, with the official Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper calling the postings “surprising.”
China claims exclusive sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea. China's claims are disputed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.
Asked about the Web site, Thuyet cited “lessons to be learned” and called for punitive measures against those responsible.
“People who are involved in this Web site should be disciplined, if necessary, because while we respect different ideas, we cannot allow anyone to abuse this forum, to disseminate ideas that go against the interests of our people.”
“I’m sure some delegates will ask about this in the meeting,” he said.Criticism of mine
The planned mine has drawn criticism from scientists and intellectuals, who cite environmental and social concerns.
The government’s master plan calls for investments of around U.S. $15 billion by 2025 to tap Vietnam’s rich bauxite reserves, estimated to be the third-largest in the world.
Bauxite is considered the most important aluminum ore and is generally strip-mined. Most residents say they expect the mine to provide badly needed jobs, as Vietnam's economy slows sharply as a result of the worldwide slowdown.
Vinacomin has begun building an aluminum factory and is preparing for major mining operations in Lam Dong and Dac Nong provinces.
Vinacomin is aiming for annual aluminum production of 4.8 million to 6.6 million tons by 2015, state media have reported.
Original reporting by Than Pham for RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated by Hanh Seide. Vietnamese service director: Diem Nguyen. Edited for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.