KUANTAN – February 23, 2020: The words of China’s former premier Den Xiao Ping on the value of rare-earth was echoed at an open-air forum held today at Malaysia’s most controversial factory – the Lynas Advanced Material Processing Plant.
“If Arab has oil. China has rare-earth. That was what Den Xiao Ping said in 1992,” was the opening remark of Lynas Corporation vice-president Datuk Mashal Ahmad at the company’s first “Rare-earth Economy Open Day”.
He then spoke on how China, which initially knew almost nothing about rare-earth, has now become a supply giant, producing over 80 per cent of total global output of said mineral which was an essential input to modern technologies.
The second largest rare-earth producer, he said, was based in Malaysia – in Gebeng, Pahang to be precise – and this was a fact that Mashal believed Malaysians should be proud of.
“We have something that is very critical to the world in our country and yet some choose to politicise it,” said Mashal who was referring to some politicians from the anti-Lynas movement who have been calling for the closure of the factory since 2011.
Lynas faced operational uncertainty after May 2018 due to renewed criticisms of its waste disposal processes and it was only on August 15 last year that the government conditionally extended its operating licence to March 2 this year.
And while news concerning the renewal of its license has yet to be made, Mashal was confident of a positive verdict that will be based on proven scientific facts –that Lynas’ operations are safe– and the rule of law.
At a press conference, later on, Mashal expressed hope that this time around the license extension will be that of three-years instead of the “unusually tight” six-months as the company has already fulfilled the conditions that were given to it in August last year.
The conditions were:
- To relocate its cracking and leaching operations outside of Malaysia within four years.
- To cease all research and development projects over the possible recycling of Lynas’ residues as a soil conditioner.
- To identify the location and submit the blueprint of the permanent depository facility of its residues.
“Barring non-expert interference, we are very confident that our license will be renewed for another three years,” he said, adding that such a period was in accordance to the law and was the standard timeframe given to any company.
He also cautioned the government that potential investors will continue to be spooked from coming into Malaysia if Lynas were to have its license extended for just another six-month.
“There are many who want to come here. Malaysia is a good place to do business. But do they want to come until the sovereign risks are removed? Would they invest if they are not sure what will happen tomorrow?” was Mashal’s rhetorical poser.
The bulk of the 2,000 visitors at today’s event were mainly members of the Malay Consultative Council (MCC), who were led by several prominent figures including former Inspector-General of Police, Tun Hanif Omar.
At the conference, MCC spokeperson, Professor Datuk Dr Hassan Mad said the council will submit a memorandum to the government in a bid to “help neutralise” the criticisms against Lynas, particularly from certain Pakatan Harapan politicians.
“MCC’s interest in Lynas stems from wanting Malaysia to have a new economy and we are of the opinion that rare-earth is the new economy. We are grateful of the fact that Malaysia has the only rare-earth plant outside of China,” said Hassan.