China will allow thousands of unsafe coal mines to operate until at least 2010 after a plan to close them met resistance from local governments, state press said yesterday.
Central authorities in Beijing intended to close all China's unsafe coal mines by the end of next year, but local governments opposed the plan because it would mean a cut in their revenues and profits, the China Daily and Xinhua news agency reported.
"Problems emerged when the policy was implemented at local levels," Xinhua quoted An Yuanjie, an official with the State Administration of Work Safety, as saying.
"Small coal mines, some of which are notoriously deadly, are considered the major capital sources for local governments, leading to many local authorities protecting unsafe mines for financial gain," she said.
Almost 6,000 workers were killed in China's coal mines last year -- a rate of about 16 fatalities each day -- according to official figures.
Labor rights groups, such as the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, say the real number of mining deaths could be as high as 20,000 each year, because local government officials and mine owners often cover up accidents.
Previous attempts to shut down China's unsafe mines have met with mixed success, at best.
Nearly 60 percent of the 5,001 mines ordered to shut down last year continued to operate, the government admitted in January.
One reason is that many local officials have business interests in the coal industry. Officials in charge of overseeing safety or closing the mines often had stakes in the same mines, the government has said previously.