Tag Archives: Fiji

Fiji calls for sea-bed mining moratorium as Nautilus restructures

Nic Maclellan | Islands Business | August 13, 2019

Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has again called for a 10-year moratorium on sea-bed mining, at a time that many Pacific island nations are preparing for new frontiers of resource exploitation in the marine environment.

Speaking in Tuvalu this week before the 50th Pacific Islands Forum, Prime Minister Bainimarama called on fellow Forum island states to “support a 10-year moratorium on seabed mining from 2020 to 2030, which would allow for a decade of proper scientific research of our economic zones and territorial waters.”

There is growing pressure from French, Canadian and US corporations to advance the deep-sea mining (DSM) agenda, as well as interest from the China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association. Just as energy corporations are looking towards deep-sea oil and gas reserves, companies are developing technology to exploit mineral ore deposits found on the ocean floor, including cobalt crusts, seafloor massive sulphides and ferromanganese nodules.

Fiji’s call for a moratorium comes as community groups across the region are campaigning against potential environmental hazards of deep-sea mining, especially to ecologically sensitive hydrothermal vents. A report from the Guam-based Blue Ocean Law argues:

“There is a general failure to incorporate sufficient environmental protections, as well as the norm of free, prior, and informed consent for indigenous peoples, who are most likely to be impacted by DSM. In the 21st century, and under well-established norms of international law, these omissions represent serious violations of international legal obligations.”

Bainimarama’s call comes the same week as major restructuring of the Nautilus Minerals corporation, which has been planning to commence mining off the coast of Papua New Guinea, under a world-first licence issued by the PNG government.

Fiji and oceans policy

In recent years, Fiji has taken a leading role in ocean policy at the United Nations, working with other Forum island countries through the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) group.

In June 2017, Fiji and Sweden co-hosted the high-level UN Conference on the Oceans and Seas in New York. This conference issued a call for action, highlighting action on ocean acidification, plastics, and overfishing. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres appointed former Fiji UN Ambassador Peter Thomson as the UN Special Envoy on the Ocean.

This global campaigning is also translating into domestic legislation. Speaking in Tuvalu this week, Prime Minister Bainimarama said: “In addition to playing a leadership role in the global Ocean Pathway, we are also developing a National Oceans Policy, under which Fiji plans to move to a 100 per cent sustainable managed Exclusive Economic Zone, with 30 per cent of this being earmarked as a marine protected area by no later than 2030.”

Under the Forum’s “Blue Pacific” agenda, island nations are seeking to draw the links between oceans and climate policy. Bainimarama noted that Fiji was working with the Republic of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Blue Shipping Partnership to develop “a blended and innovative finance structure to support the decarbonisation of domestic marine transportation fleets and facilities in Fiji and across the region. This means replacing inter-island ships with more efficient hybrid ships, thereby reducing fuel costs and emissions.”

Pacific DSM initiatives

Under the provisions of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), many Forum island countries with large EEZs have been in discussions with transnational corporations to partner in deep sea exploration for maritime resources. Under UNCLOS and the authority of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), developing countries can also partner with overseas corporations to licence exploration in “The Area”, international waters that include vast arrays of minerals in Pacific Ocean areas such as the Clarion-Clipperton zone.

Nauru has long been a champion of DSM – at last year’s Forum leaders’ meeting, Nauru President Baron Waqa hosted a side even with ISA Secretary General Michael Lodge and Samantha Smith, the former Head of Environment and Social Responsibility with the deep-sea mining corporation DeepGreen.

This new frontier has drawn in regional organisations, to address legal, technical and regulatory issues around DSM. Boundary limitation is a vital concern as Pacific nations seek to increase potential revenues from fisheries and seabed mining in their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). From 2010-16, the European Union funded the Pacific Community (SPC) to develop model DSM legislation for Forum member states, with many civil society groups concerned this work was promoting rather than regulating DSM.

The SPC Maritime Boundaries Division has also been engaged in technical work to clarify borders between independent island states as well as with colonial powers like France and the United States (for example, Vanuatu and France have been involved in a decades-long dispute over Matthew and Hunter islands).

There are tensions between the administering powers and territorial governments over the control of seabed minerals in the remaining colonies in the region. With an EEZ of nearly 5 million square kilometres, ocean-floor resources could be vitally important for the newest Forum member, French Polynesia. However, as the French government moved to amend French Polynesia’s autonomy statue earlier this year, France’s constitutional court ruled that rare earths can be classified as “strategic metals”, which come under the control of the French State rather than the Government of French Polynesia.  

Independence leaders have long argued against the French State’s control of strategic metals, with former Senator for French Polynesia Richard Ariihau Tuheiava telling the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation in 2017: “We have continually emphasised the critical nature of the resource question as a core issue for our future development. Whether or not these resources are considered in Paris to be ‘strategic’ is irrelevant to the applicability of international legal decisions which place the ownership of natural resources with the people of the non-self-governing territories.”

Collapse of PNG initiative

Early initiatives to begin sea-bed mining in the Pacific have not come to fruition. This week’s set-back to a major project in Papua New Guinea provides a salutary warning about the complexity and potential costs of DSM.

Under a licence issued by the PNG government, Nautilus Minerals has long planned to mine seabed minerals beneath PNG’s Bismarck Sea. However, with widespread community resistance, falling share prices and the loss of a specialised support vessel, Nautilus constantly pushed out the date for commencement of mining.

In February this year, Nautilus filed for court protection from its creditors under the Canadian Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), and the Canadian-based company was later delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange. This week, major shareholders MB Holding and Metalloinvest have moved to take control of company assets at the expense of major creditors and smaller shareholders (The PNG Government holds 15 per cent equity in Nautilus’ PNG subsidiary and the Solwara 1 project through the company Eda Kopa).

The looming collapse of the Solwara seabed mining initiative has been welcomed by civil society groups in Papua New Guinea, which have been campaigning against potential adverse impacts on ocean ecology.

Jonathan Mesulam of PNG’s Alliance of Solwara Warriors stated:

“We rejoiced when the company filed for protection from creditors in Canada. Our opposition and our court action have helped push it to that point. Communities across Papua New Guinea want to see the nightmare of deep-sea mining removed from PNG waters. We will re-double our efforts to ensure that the new Nautilus will never operate at Solwara 1.”

Fiji’s call for a moratorium on DSM will be debated in the corridors at this week’s Pacific Islands Forum, but there’s a way to go before all Forum member countries are willing to delay action on the supposed ocean El Dorado.

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Small Pacific country roasts Australia over its coal mining policies

Barbara Dreaver | TVNZ | 10 March 2019

One of the smallest countries in the Pacific has given Australia a roasting over its coal mining policies.

The low lying island of Tuvalu faces the full impact of climate change, and given the Regional Pacific Forum meeting is to be held there, fireworks are likely.

It wants firm action from Australia on its coal mining policies.

“I would implore and impress on the leaders of Australia to reconsider their coal mining policy and the $64 million dollars they are getting from selling their coal,” says Tuvalu’s prime minister, Enele Sopoaga.

It’s a big call for financially strapped Tuvalu to tell Australia to keep its aid.

“There is no point in giving ODA (Official Development Assistance), we appreciate it of course but giving it at the same time as continuing polluting the atmosphere and increasing the cost of adaptation I think just doesn’t work well,” Mr Sopoaga says.

But Tuvalu has a trump card. Its tiny shores will be hosting and driving the upcoming forum.

The small island states will be expecting to have their voices heard and with Frank Bainimarama attending for the first time in years, Fiji won’t be sitting on the side lines either.

As a world driver on climate change action, this could be an opportunity for Fiji to flex its muscles.

Despite a lot of diplomatic healing in recent times, Fiji’s prime minister still wants New Zealand and Australia out of the forum.

New Zealand First’s Winston Peters says much time has been spent resetting New Zealand’s relationship with Fiji.

“We are talking about a very expanded partnership going into the future, understanding it’s just not the interests of Fiji that we are talking about or the interests of New Zealand we are talking about but indeed our whole neighbourhood,” he said.

The whole neighbourhood will converge in Tuvalu in August and with 18 Pacific leaders at the table, it knows it has a captive audience.

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Vatukoula Gold Mines To Recruit 200 More Workers

Vatukoula Gold Mines Limited.

Charles Chambers | Fiji Sun | November 20, 2018

Vatukoula Gold Mines Limited (“VGML”) is looking to recruit 200 more employees to fill the  vacant positions for their underground operations.

The mining company is working with Western provincial administrators based in Ba and Rakiraki on a village-based recruitment programme.

The intent of the project is to encourage young men from rural areas of Fiji to take up employment as underground miners at Vatukoula Gold Mines while maintaining their links to their communities.

These links will be maintained by means of:

  • A roster which will enable two weeks off every six weeks.
  • Transport will be facilitated to the employee’s community and return to Vatukoula on conclusion of their two week community break.
  • As part of their application and selection process, each applicant will be encouraged and required to commit to a specific project in their home community e.g. building a residence, a farming venture, communal building project etc.

Criteria

Young men who meet the criteria for employment will be offered free shared accommodation, inclusive of all services (electricity, water) and the services of a cook but contributing to the cost of their meals out of their wages.

Land for planting of root and vegetable crops will be made available and the opportunity to lower their food purchase  costs by supplying from their home villages and being compensated out of their food budget.

VGML will also provide the services of a Community Relations Officer (“CRO”) as a mentor for all participants in the scheme.

The present CRO is the former head teacher of the Vatukoula Primary School, Serupepeli Koroitubuna.

Recruitment

The CRO will liaise with relevant Government agencies to facilitate the employee’s project wherever possible and will also provide guidance in financial literacy and extracurricular activities designed to grow the employee’s life skills.

To date the company has recruited 12 young men from the villages of Balevuto and Toge from rural Ba and Namauimada and Naboutolu in Ra.

The new employees undergo four weeks of surface induction which involves safety, how to handle themselves in different situations and first aid to name a few.

They are then taken underground for a further six months training under strict supervision.

VGML Corporate Services manager Dini Laufenboeck said the feedback had been very encouraging but that the mines would strictly monitor conditions going forward.

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First $25,221 Distributed To 100 Landowners As ‘Fair Share’ Of Mineral Royalties In Vatukoula

Minister for Lands and Mineral Resources, Faiyaz Koya (middle) handed out cheques to 100 Nasomo landowners under the right of landowners to a fair share of mineral royalties. It came at Vatukoula on November 6, 2018. Photo: Charles Chambers

US$300 each a ‘fair share’ – really? 

Fiji Sun | 7 November 2018

Tis the season to be jolly.

Yesterday marked the day that the right of landowners to a fair share of mineral royalties for the extraction of minerals under their land comes to fruition.

Thanks to the Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and his FijiFirst Government

It marks a milestone event not only for the landowners but also for the mining sector and also the Government of Fiji.

The Minister for Industry, Trade, Tourism, Lands and Mineral Resources Faiyaz Koya yesterday disbursed the fair share of mineral royalties to landowners of Nasomo, where $65,221 was distributed to 100 landowners.

The landowners will receive $652.21 each.

Mr Koya said: “It is not a one off payment but a series of payments depending on the amount of mineral being mined by Vatukoula Gold Mine as it operates and continues to mine below your land. 

Share of royalty

“The share of the royalty is for the gold mining at Vatukoula Gold Mine by the Vatukoula Gold Mine Ltd (VGML).

“I would also like to acknowledge the Vatukoula Gold Mine for paying the mining royalty initially to the Mineral Resources Department.”

Mr Koya thanked the landowners of Nasomo that were involved in the consultation with staff of the Ministry of Lands and Minerals in particular the Turaga ni Koro, the Trustees for the Nasomo Landowners in working with staff of the Mineral Resources Department in sorting out issues and making this historical day possible.

mr Koya said: “This fair share payout to landowners is in recognition of their contribution to national development through the use of their land for the purpose of mining.

“This will also assist in socio-economic development and economic empowerment of indigenous landowning communities and boost local economic activity in rural areas, improve quality of life as per vision of the government for equitable benefit sharing.

“I hope that these monies which the Government has shared with you today will be put to good use for the benefit of your families and community and harmonious existence with other stakeholders of the mining community.

“This Government not only talks about caring for all landowners in Fiji, in this case for iTaukei landowners of Nasomo, but backs up its talk with actions such as this, indeed actions speak louder than Words on this historic and milestone occasion.”

Normal practise

Section 30 of Fiji’s 2013 Constitution mentions that all minerals are owned by the state. It provides for the owners of any particular land (irrespective whether customary or freehold) or of any particular registered customary fishing rights to be entitled to receive a fair share of royalties or other money paid to the state in respect of the grant by the state of rights to mine minerals from the land or the seabed in the area of those fishing rights.

“The normal practise is for the royalty to be retained by the state as the owners of minerals under Fiji’s Mining Act,” Mr Koya said.

“However the current government had passed legislation in the May sitting of parliament giving effect to section 30 of the constitution thus allowing the sharing of royalty in this case with native landowners.

“This is the new way of benefit sharing in mineral development in our beloved country where mineral royalty is shared equitably amongst landowners for the betterment of all concerned.

“This “fair share” law is the first of its kind in Fiji (and the region) and the landowners of Nasomo are the first landowners to receive this fair share of Mineral Royalty under the 2013 constitution.

“This proves Government’s continues effort to care for landowners in the utilisation of their land and in this instant for the added benefit for the provision of land for mining whether directly on the surface or indirectly as in case.”

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Impact of Industrial & Economic Development on the Environment

 

“We do not inherit the earth from our parents; we borrow it from our children”….North American Indian proverb.

Pope Francis once said: “Destroying the Earth is Sin”. 

“Safeguard Creation,” he said, “because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us!”

“Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude,”

Leo Nainoka | Social Empowerment & Education Program (SEEP) | 25 October 2018

The over-riding concerns of the Church and certain NGOs like SEEP has been centered on the inequitable distribution of the Earth’s resources.

We would like to focus our attention on the greatest victim of unjust decisions – the rural communities.

One of the themes of Social Justice is “Stewardship of Creation” and it is very important to take note of what Pope Francis said “Creation is a gift that God has given us so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all.”

There are still so many proposed extractions, gravel extraction on rivers and logging being planned in Fiji.

There are so many in the tenement list and maps by the mineral resources department. There is a plan to mine bauxite in Wainunu, Bua. There is magnetite mining earmarked for Sigatoka river by Dome and Gusunituba river in Votua, Ba by Amex. There is ongoing bauxite mining in Dreketi.

There is also plan to mine Namosi of Gold and copper but the Tikina Namosi landowners Committee are holding up well and of cause there is a plan to mine gold in Tuvatu, Sabeto.

Before every mine plan is given the green light there needs to be proper EIA – Environment Impact Assessment process conducted by independent consultants and Fisheries Impact Assessment for gravel extraction and harvesting code of practice for logging

We must first of all examine our ideas on development. Those who are proposing these kinds of development must first of all understand the meaning of development. What really does development mean to us?

Women of Votua selling crabs

While it is true to say that buildings, equipment and money are useful and necessary for development purposes we must be really careful to remind ourselves that development must focus on human beings and not things like infrastructure and so forth. The core of development has to be people centered.

Early French Philosopher, writer and historian – Francois Marie Arouet, well known as Voltaire once said “Don’t think money does everything, or you are going to end up doing everything for money”

In a Globalized world that we are living in, there is more hunger for more money instead of focusing more on human beings.

The focus of every development initiative should be people. Sustainable development is development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future generation’s.

The village of Votua, Ba are not really happy on how their “qoliqoli” will be used to extract black sand or magnetite.

In the Fiji Times of 9th July, 2018 it was reported that “Villagers are still in the dark on black sand extraction”. It went on to say that “some villagers of Votua in Ba claim they have been in the dark regarding black sand extraction in Ba River which according to locals the real name of the river is “Gusunituba

The village of Votua has three clans – Yavusa Narai , Yavusa Nadua and Yavusa Balavu. The heads of these three clans told us, Social Empowerment & Education Program – SEEP that “they said yes only to exploration” not extraction.

The location of the extraction site is a food bank and livelihood for the people of Votua, Ba. It has contributed to their daily sustenance, education for their children, their community hall, their church and their school.

Proposed extraction site

The three heads of clans are asking the Government to put a stop to this project for the sake of their people, not only for themselves but for their future generation as well.

Awareness raising and community education are extremely important in relation to conservation of fresh water and sea water resources.

This topic also warrants attention in school curricula and adult education programs, including health awareness programs. Again the Churches should play a leading role in encouraging understanding and commitment.

There were no proper due diligence conducted with the people of Votua, Nawaqarua and nearby settlements. There was no free, prior and informed consent.

Free Prior and Informed  Consent is an extraction of UNDRIP for all Indigenous peoples of the world and the right of all Indigenous peoples to be fully informed and to reject or give their consent based on their own collective decision making process to any project that concerns them.

All facts must be shared to the communities where they can base their decision and agreement by the people is without force or manipulation by outside parties or the State.

The indigenous people have their right to their land and their resources and must be free from hazardous materials. They have the right to redress.

According to the people of Votua Village, their Marine resources are very important to their daily needs.

They also said that if these extraction project is given the green light it will drastically threatened their livelihood and very disruptive to coral reefs nearby. Several saltwater and freshwater species are endangered by this unsustainable practice. According to experts extraction causes profound effects on biodiversity.

Makereta Ranadi and Mikaele Seru – looking for crabs to sell

Mangroves are largely found on both sides of the river bank in Gusunituba, Votua, Ba. If these mangroves are lost or if there are mangrove canopies, this will result in diminishing the values of subsistence and commercial fishing by the community of Votua, Nawaqarua and nearby settlements.

Fish, crabs, land crabs, reef fish, prawns, mud crabs, turtles, ark shell, freshwater mussels and other varieties of resources from the river and the seafront can all be threatened if this project is given the green light to go ahead. The environment and the economy are two sides of the same coin.

Most local communities all over the world are resisting environmental destruction of their local habitats and communities but it will be good for the Government and companies to engage with communities like Votua, Ba and provide awareness and bring them on board to understand the effects of this project on their culture, their social lives, the degradation to their environment and their livelihood and how it will have an impact on our weather patterns.

The Social Empowerment & Education Program – SEEP together with communities of Votua, Nawaqarua and nearby settlements believes and hope that good sense and wisdom will prevail, allow for proper consultation and let the communities understand the effects on their environments, their social lives, culture and give them the space to properly discuss these and make their own decision whether to mine or not to mine.

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Fiji govt needs to ensure people understand environmental impacts of mining

Peter Loy Chong. Photo: Pacific Theological College

“The majority of the people are not aware of the full consequences of mining, logging, stone extraction, black sand mining and how these will impoverish their food bank,” he said.

Fiji govt needs to walk the talk – archbishop

Radio New Zealand |10 October 2018 

The Fiji government should ensure environmental policies at home reflect the climate messages it promotes abroad, Fiji’s Catholic archbishop says.

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has been championing the fight against global warming as president of the current UN climate round, the COP23.

But the archbishop, Peter Loy Chong, said the government’s policies needed to be consistent with the proposals it touted during COP23.

Current government policy did too little to protect landowners, the archbishop said.

The government needed to ensure landowners fully understood environmental impacts when negotiating contracts for activities like mining.

“The majority of the people are not aware of the full consequences of mining, logging, stone extraction, black sand mining and how these will impoverish their food bank,” he said.

“It will have an implication on the shores on which they rely for food.”

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China looking under the sea for opportunities in the Pacific

Denghua Zhang* | East Asia Forum | 30 June 2018

China has hunted globally for land-based mineral deposits to fuel its economic development since the 1990s. Now, Beijing is devoting growing attention to seabed mining. As China’s Five-Year Plan on Mineral Resources (2016–2020) states, ‘China will actively participate in international surveys on deep sea mining and accelerate the exploration and development of ocean minerals’.

In the Pacific islands region, most countries are small in land area but have huge maritime exclusive economic zones (EEZs). Chinese enterprises have invested in seven land-based mining projects in Papua New Guinea (PNG), Fiji, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands and have been interested in mining the Pacific’s seabed minerals since 2001.

China’s engagement with the Pacific on seabed mining started with research activities that have mainly been carried out by the China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association (COMRA). COMRA is affiliated with the former State Oceanic Administration, which was absorbed into the new Ministry of Natural Resources in March 2018.

The Qingdao Institute of Marine Geology has conducted many of COMRA’s research projects in the Pacific. Between 2001 and 2010, the Institute completed two research projects on China’s bilateral cooperation in ocean resources exploration and on seabed mineral resources in the South Pacific. Their research categorised marine areas as prospective sources of polymetallic nodules, cobalt nodules and hydrothermal sulphide deposits, and also compiled a seabed mining resources map of the Pacific. The research team suggested that China should incorporate seabed mining into its aid plans for Pacific states and use concessional loans to support exploration projects.

Based on these research activities, Chinese government agencies have directly reached out to their Pacific counterparts. In April 2013, a joint delegation comprised of officials from COMRA and Chinese mining institutions visited the Cook Islands, Fiji and Samoa and expressed their strong interest in exploring seabed mining in the three countries. In August 2014, Chen Lianzeng, Deputy Director of the China State Oceanic Administration, visited Vanuatu and Fiji and proposed that China and the two countries should strengthen cooperation on maritime resources exploration and development. Vanuatu’s then-prime minister Joe Natuman and Naipote Katonitabua, the acting permanent secretary of Fiji’s Office of the Prime Minister, responded positively to China’s suggestions.

China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are also involved in seabed mining. Mawei Shipbuilding Limited, a Chinese SOE located in Fujian Province, is building a US$18 million seafloor production support vessel for Toronto-based Nautilus Minerals. The vessel was launched in March 2018, with approximately 75 per cent of it completed. It will be used for the Solwara 1 project — the world’s first seabed mining project, located in the Bismarck Sea off PNG.

The three seafloor production tools to be used in the Solwara 1 project were designed and built by the UK-based Soil Machine Dynamics Ltd. In April 2015, Soil Machine Dynamics Ltd was sold to Zhuzhou CRRC Times Electric Co, Ltd, which is an SOE ultimately owned by the State Council of China. The products from Solwara 1 will be processed by Tongling Nonferrous Metals Group — another Chinese SOE. In May 2017, China Minmetals Corporation and the International Seabed Authority (ISA) signed a 15-year contract that allows China to search for polymetallic nodules in the 72,745 square kilometres of the Clarion–Clipperton Fracture Zone in the Pacific Ocean.

Seabed mining in the Pacific is attracting interest from other foreign players. For example, Japan and Russia have brokered ISA contracts to explore cobalt-rich crust resources in sites close to the EEZs of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia.

Seabed mining is both an emerging field and one that is in a considerable state of flux. As shown by the proposed Solwara 1 Project, this new industry faces unprecedented financialenvironmental and social challenges. There are also notable gaps in the international and national laws that govern seabed mining. The International Seabed Authority is still in the process of developing a ‘Mining Code’ to regulate the prospecting, exploration and exploitation of seabed minerals. As of late 2015, only four of the 14 Pacific states (Palau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Nauru) have legislation that covers seabed mining issues. The PNG government is still developing a draft offshore mining policy.

Greater China–Pacific engagement on seabed mining has upsides and downsides. Pacific states have flagged seabed mining as a new potential driving force of economic growth. PNG, Fiji, Tonga and the Solomon Islands are among the first countries in the world to issue exploration licenses for seabed mining in their EEZs, and Pacific states might be able to seek more financial and technical assistance from China to develop this new industry. But any such project needs to consider the environmental and social impacts of seabed mining and must fully comply with international and national laws.

Looking into the future, China is expected to engage actively with Pacific states on seabed mining and focus on exploration and establishing official contacts. But China is unlikely to commit substantial resources to seabed mining projects before the industry becomes more commercially and environmentally viable.

*Denghua Zhang is a Research Fellow at the Department of Pacific Affairs, The Australian National University.

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