Commentary Politics

Malaysia’s ironic rare-earth row

Zaidi Azmi
Written by Zaidi Azmi

November 28, 2019

A commentary by Zaidi Azmi

RARE-EARTH has once again taken centre stage but this time around, the clamour over the much sought after mineral comes with an ironic twist.

Ironic as those on the receiving end of the public blowback are politicians whose parties had previously ridden the anti-rare-earth bandwagon while in the opposition.

How the tables have been turned….

The latest hoo-ha follows a memorandum of understanding that the Perak government had signed on November 16 with a China rare-earth miner, Chinalco GXNF Rare Earth Development Co. Ltd.

And the Water, Land and Natural Resources Ministry that oversaw the MoU stated that this was a positive step towards realising the lucrative potential of Malaysia’s minerals.

The ministry also pointed out that the two entities will embark on a systematic exploration of the mineral in Perak. On top of that, a sustainable rare-earth mining framework is in the works.

Now any Tom, Dick and Harry would have seen this as a greenlight of Malaysia’s commitment in mining rare-earth, especially so given the July 18 statement of minister Dr. Xavier Jayakumar’ that pointed to this possibility.

Even a local green group – which was against such an activity due the state’s unsavoury experience with rare-earth 40 years ago – had yesterday remarked how the MoU will eventually lead to mining of rare-earth.

But according to the ministry’s corporate communication unit and the Perak government, this would not be the case, with the latter stressing that they were just going to explore rare-earth deposits.

On the other hand, the ministry complained about The Mole’s report over the MoU, saying that it gave a false impression over the government’s willingness to tap into Malaysia’s rare-earth deposits.

The reason? Because (1) the government did not explicitly state that it had approved rare-earth mining and (2) an MoU is just a gentleman’s agreement, not legally binding and therefore, does not carry weight.

So, despite speaking glowingly about the prospect of mining rare-earth and signing an MoU with a foreign miner, does this mean the government has no intention of going beyond just the agreement?


Also, why sign the MoU and have this in your own statement: “… this agreement is a positive step towards propelling the country’s mining industry to an even higher level.”

Equally peculiar is the absolute silence of politicians who had vehemently lambasted the previous government for allowing rare-earth miner, Lynas Corporation, to refine Australian rare-earth in Malaysia.

Neither Yeo Bee Yin nor the infamous anti-Lynas dynamic duo, DAP’s Wong Tack and PKR’s Fuziah Salleh, have uttered a single squeak.

Even DAP’s Kepong parliamentarian Lim Lip Eng, who had a few weeks ago called on the government to purposely find fault with Lynas, was non-committal when asked about the MoU.

“No thanks,” was Lim’s one-liner of a response when asked.



About the author

Zaidi Azmi

Zaidi Azmi

If Zaidi Azmi isn’t busy finding his way in the city, this 26-year-old northern kampung boy can be found struggling to make sense of the Malaysian political scene. Zaidi can be reached at