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Indonesia: New mining-friendly policies limit civil society action as Belt and Road rekindles bauxite refining industry

"Indonesia gambles on bauxite" 11 February 2021

The forests and farms of Indonesian Borneo are cratered with waterlogged pits left behind from the boom years of mining for bauxite ore, the primary source of aluminium. Now a series of new mining-friendly laws aim to revive those pits and carve out a higher-value role for Indonesia in the global aluminium sector. [...]

In the process, villages like Meranggau feel their concerns are going unheard. With the new laws, a neighbouring mining company, PT Persada Pratama Cemerlang (PPC), has restarted and begun expanding its operations. In June last year, locals barricaded the road to the mine and hoisted a sign reading: “We do not approve.” It was a formal, traditional way to express local anger that PPC was pressing ahead with building a dirt road that has displaced rice farmers.

In August last year, PPC met with Kristop and local government representatives, but failed to resolve their concerns. “We’re asking for help to mediate the conflict. We don’t want this to go on until the impacts spread and trigger social problems, even social conflict,” said Kristop. A PPC spokesperson has not responded to questions from China Dialogue. [...]

The omnibus law limits formal complaints or legal action to residents who are directly affected by a business. As a result, the Jakarta-based Walhi may be unable to provide legal support to affected communities. Furthermore, the job of issuing environmental permits will be handed to the central government, and locals will no longer be able to challenge them after they are issued. The government has argued this is to professionalise the process.

The new pro-mining laws have been met with strong criticism and protests, despite Covid curfews and police violence, according to Amnesty International. [...]

China invests in refineries

Despite China’s lack of interest in 2014, the country’s Belt and Road Initiative has now encouraged some Chinese investment in the bauxite refining industry in West Kalimantan. With a mixture of investment from Indonesian state-owned miner, Antam, private domestic enterprises and a handful of Chinese companies, six refineries are now being built or expanded, including three along the Kapuas River near Meranggau and Meliau Hulu. Construction, however, is taking place at slower-than-expected rates. [...]