COMMENT When it was announced that the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (Lamp) had been given the nod to begin operations by the Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB), no time was wasted to trumpet that “China’s chokehold on the rare earths” has been broken.
It was a victory that the West has long been manoeuvring to effect. Unfettered access to processed rare earths, once the bailiwick of mighty China.
It is not that there are no rare earth deposits outside of the Communist state, but that there are no other places in the world that have the processing capacity of the Middle Kingdom.
Deposits exists in places like Mt Weld in Australia, and Mountain Pass in the United States, but to process it into useable forms requires a risky and dirty process. A process that would never have passed the stringent environmental standards and citizenry concerns of the “developed” Western nations.
China however, was not much of a stickler for such concerns nor environmental standards, at least not when its rare earth processing was set up. Hence its monopoly on the “dirty” process.
The stranglehold of the communist state was made evident when it flexed its rare earths supply muscle to humble the mighty economic giant Japan, when it limited exports of processed rare earths to the Land of the Rising Sun.
At one time, Malaysia had entered the fray as the place rare earths from China were shipped, to enable Japanese companies based here to purchase the commodity much sought after for high-tech manufacturing, weaponry and green technology, that was denied direct export to Japan.
It is ironic that the last bastion of communism would find its radiant future not from superior ideology or might of arms but in engaging in the same capitalistic practices and exploiting the peasantry like it once condemned the West for practising.
But as it has been said, China was always China first and everything else second. And the Chinese as is evidenced by the thriving Chinatowns in cities around the world, have been consummate businessmen and traders way before they were communists.
And as foretold by the Little Red Book, China, the leading edge of communism, is now more “progressive” than the “decadent” West.
Decadent and crumbling if the financial crises and weakening economies of the once mighty free world are to be named and shamed.
And this was when Malaysia came to the rescue. As the BN-led government willfully “invited” Lynas and its Lamp to Malaysian shores, just like it once did to Misubishi Kasel when it sited its Asian Rare Earth (ARE) plant in Bukit Merah, Perak.
The genie is out of the lamp
With the nod from the AELB, the genie, as they say, is out of the lamp.
But it was perhaps easy to understand why the Malaysian government would agree to such a dangerous proposition, willingly putting at risk environmental safety and the health of its people.
Malaysia was once one of the Asian Tigers, the cubs who stood poised to dominate the world economy.
However while the other ‘Tigers’ matured and grew up, Malaysia failed to to take the same route, stagnating in an economy that still tried to sell itself comparatively as the country of cheap labour, tax breaks and an English-speaking highly-trained work force.
Unfortunately, those which were once our comparative advantages, now stand obsolete as we face stiff competition from emerging Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and of course our “old friend” good old Singapore.
Hence now we no longer have the best-trained workers, the best incentives, the monopoly on an English-speaking workforce, nor are our labour as cheap as it was.
The answer that must have flashed on the lightbulbs in the BN-led leadership, may have been the not so bright willingness to pawn off the safety of the rakyat and our environment for the sake of maintaining economic performance.
And so we have four huge aluminium smelters in Sarawak and of course the Lamp in Gebeng, Kuantan, right in the heart of the Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s own backyard of Pahang.
What our government did was akin to selling our environmental souls to the West, as we help them fight the new economic Cold War with China.
In some ways we are now the Banana Republics or Third World States of the previous Cold War, Western allies that are allowed to do as they please as long as they become the staging ground for the West in their Machiavellian trysts.
On that note, I wonder about analysis that say that the US ‘deep state’ prefers Anwar Ibrahim’s leadership of Malaysia to Najib’s premiership.
After all the US has been known to tolerate undemocratic dictators and kings as long as they get them to do what is best for the “free world”. The Arab states, for example, are those selfsame dictatorships allowed by the West to maintain their grip on the oil rich region. One does not have to wonder why Syria, for example, was not given the Nato treatment accorded to Libya, despite their similar crisis.
One wonders if America and the West would not want a Malaysian government pliant in their hands as it is now, to be the front line of the new economic Cold War and rare earth race with China, rather than one with Anwar at the helm who promises reforms and has vowed to curtail such risky ventures.
HAZLAN ZAKARIA is a member of the Malaysiakini team.