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Thu, Dec 28, 2006 - Page 10 News List

China to expand strategic resources

AIM BIG With a population of 1.3 billion and an increasing demand for oil and minerals, Beijing is coming up with a handful of strategies to address its future strategic needs

AP , SHANGHAI

China will take advantage of its massive foreign exchange reserves to expand its stock of strategic resources such as oil and minerals, state media reported yesterday, citing a top economic official.

Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan (曾培炎) told leaders of the National People's Congress that the government plans to step up exploration for key resources such as oil, gas and coal.

It also intends to use the opportunity afforded by the country's more than US$1 trillion in foreign reserves to improve strategic resource bases, the state-run newspaper China Business News and other reports said.

The reports did not provide details on exactly how the government would use funds backed by the foreign exchange reserves, which cannot directly be used for such purposes because they belong to the central bank.

Zeng, who is a top economic planner, decried China's relatively weak resource base compared with its huge population of 1.3 billion people.

China has 12 percent of the world's known mineral reserves, ranking third after the US and Russia, he said. But huge demand means that supply increasingly falls far short of consumption in many areas.

The trend worries China's leaders, who have a long viewed self-sufficiency as a strategic priority. Newspapers also carried front-page reports yesterday citing President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) emphasizing the need to conserve scarce resources, while protecting the environment.

Zeng said the country would speed up the development of deep-sea oil and gas and newly discovered onshore fields to increase oil and gas output.

"By 2010, we hope to form a number of important strategic mineral resources bases in the west and make breakthroughs in exploration work in the eastern and central parts of the country,'' the Xinhua news agency quoted Zeng as saying.

He reported the discovery of eight major oil fields with proven reserves of more than 100 million tonnes and of five gas fields, with an estimated reserve of more than 100 billion m3.

Zeng said that China's output of coal and iron ore had doubled in the past five years. This year alone, the government spent 2 billion yuan (US$256 million) on mineral exploration and plans to spend more in the future, the reports said.

China is building 13 big coal production bases that are expected to produce about 100 billion tonnes of coal a year, he said.

Meanwhile, Zeng said the government planned to designate an unspecified number of large companies to be built into internationally competitive conglomerates.

"We'll support large mineral businesses in coalitions, and acquisitions and mergers and the reorganization of small and medium-sized counterparts," Zeng was quoted as saying.

China has tens of thousands of mining companies, most of them small operations with dire safety records. The government has been vowing for years to consolidate the industry and shut down smaller players.

China's central bank has downplayed proposals for using the country's foreign reserves -- which reportedly have surpassed US$1 trillion -- to finance purchases of oil and other resources.

However, some economists have argued in favor of this approach, saying the government could issue long-term bonds to the central bank to gain access to the funds.

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