Malaysia

Chinese still against Lynas plant, say activists

By Ida Lim and Md Izwan
December 08, 2012

Vehicles drive past Himpunan Hijau supporters marching toward Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur in this file photo of November 25, 2012. The Himpunan Hijau group is against the Lynas project in Gebeng, Pahang.Vehicles drive past Himpunan Hijau supporters marching toward Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur in this file photo of November 25, 2012. The Himpunan Hijau group is against the Lynas project in Gebeng, Pahang.KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 8 – Chinese Malaysians are very much against the start-up of the controversial Lynas rare earths plant in Kuantan contrary to the MCA’s recent claim that the community has softened their stand and believe it can help spur the economy, Pahang’s green groups said today.

Several environmental activists told The Malaysian Insider the remarks were a political statement without basis that were aimed to play down the national significance of the issue ahead of the 13th general elections.

“They don’t have data to support their statement,” said Andansura Rabu, Stop Lynas Coalition (SLC)’s chairman, rubbishing Kuantan MCA chairman Datuk Ti Lian Ker remark that many Chinese have accepted the Barisan Nasional (BN) government’s decision to allow the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) to operate and that the project would help boost the country’s economy.

“The people, particularly the Chinese here, have now accepted the decision. The opposition parties are therefore urged not to continue politicising the Lynas issue to erode the government’s image for their electoral gain,” Ti was quoted as saying yesterday by state news agency Bernama.

Andansura pointed to the large number of Chinese who had taken part in the mammoth Himpunan Hijau rally in the national capital last month to voice their dissatisfaction with the federal government.

Thousands had thronged the city’s streets on November 25, joining a group of Kuantan residents who had walked for 13 days over 300km from the east coast port city, in the latest anti-Lynas campaign.

“It shows that the Chinese are against Lynas, they are not accepting,” Andansura said, and added that the local Chinese community frequently asks the group for its next step.

Tan Bun Teet, Save Malaysia Stop Lynas (SMSL)’s chairman, shared Andansura’s view that such statements have “no basis at all”.

“How do they arrive at such a conclusion? Were there any referendums, any voting, any public inquiry done by independent body?” asked Tan Bun Teet.

He said MCA had previously formed a watchdog over the Lynas issue which he alleged was intended to split the Chinese community’s support for the anti-Lynas movements, saying that the locals have not forgotten the “disservice” done by the Chinese-based party.

“How can they say the Chinese in the local community are gradually supporting Lynas?” he asked, claiming that the MCA-formed watchdog had yet to do anything over the Lynas issue.

But Tan was quick to point out that their cause was supported by a cross-section of society, saying that the non-Chinese community also opposed the Lynas plant.

Both Andansura and Tan said that the anti-Lynas groups are driven by locals.

“But the locals still remain the main driver to fight Lynas,” Andansura said, saying that the cause was both “initiated” and “led” by the Kuantan residents.

He noted that the issue has become a national issue, with many citizens from other states joining in to help create awareness and pressure the government.

Tan agreed that it was natural for non-locals to show support for a national issue and told The Malaysian Insider that SMSL’s core group of supporters are all from Kuantan.

They were responding to reports where Kuantan MCA chairman Datuk Ti Lian Ker had said the Chinese community were misled by the opposition and non-governmental organisations(NGO) with most of their members coming outside of Kuantan.

“Tell him to show proof that we have been misled... we can form judgments by ourselves ...” Tan said, saying that those protesting against Lynas were educated and were aided by their own team of experts.

When contacted by The Malaysian Insider, Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh similarly said the local Chinese community were still opposed to the Lynas plant.

Fuziah, who has actively campaigned against the rare earth plant, said silence from the Chinese did not mean that they accept the factory but was due to the government’s alleged failure to listen to their pleas.

“They have demonstrated, sent memorandums, come to Parliament to meet minister, walk to Kuala Lumpur and so on, but does the government listen?

“They have done everything, but there’s one thing they haven’t done, that is referendum’. So this referendum will be shown in the ballot box at elections.”

“This is the only way they have to change the decision to approve Lynas, that is, through a Pakatan Rakyat government,” said the PKR leader.

Unprecedented public anger against the Lynas plant in Kuantan has been fuelling Malaysia’s green movement that could affect voter sentiment ahead of key national polls due soon.

The groups have held several rallies in Pahang — the home state of Najib — and here, to pressure the prime minister to stop Australian miner Lynas Corp from firing up its RM2.5 billion refinery in Gebeng.

LAMP is said to be the world’s biggest rare earth plant outside of China, with Lynas reportedly choosing Malaysia over Australia and China due to the lower operating costs.

Lynas fired up its kiln earlier this month, with the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) saying yesterday it will place its officers at the plant to monitor the trial run.

Lynas has been ready to begin operations since early May but faced delays due to environmental and safety disputes, which are pending in court.

Activists and Kuantan residents have challenged the government’s decision to award Lynas a temporary operating licence (TOL).

Huge amounts of superheated sulphuric acid are required to separate the rare earth elements from impurities found in the ore.

The Sydney-based company has repeatedly said its plant is safe and is not comparable to a rare earth plant in Bukit Merah, Perak by a unit of Mitsubishi Chemicals in 1992, which has been blamed for causing birth defects and a high rate of leukaemia cases among workers and residents nearby.