Last weekend, the “100 Important Topics” program aired on several channels and online, stating that transporting coal to China by narrow-gauge railroad might pose a threat to national security. The former president of the Mongolia National Mining Association, D.Damba, was a representative of opposing views on the program. Below is an interview with him.
You’ve resigned from your position as President of the Mongolia National Mining Association. Why did you resign?
The four-year term was over. Throughout that time, I tried to build up the trust of colleagues in the mining sector, and I hope my efforts paid off. Because I worked for my sector’s colleagues, I was dubbed a traitor. Currently, I’m working as President of the Mongolian Geology and Mining Institute.
I would like to clarify many things presented in the “100 Important Topics” program aired on several channels last weekend. By the way, whose “target dog” (a Mongolian idiom used to symbolize a person whose job it is to disguise someone else’s distress in public) have you become?
I, myself, don’t even understand whose “target dog” I’ve become. I’m an ordinary mining engineer. I’ve worked in this sector all my life. I’m not involved in politics in any way. A month ago, journalist Go.Badarch asked me to come and give an interview about the narrow gauge railway issue. When I got there, Member of Parliament B.Battulga was also asked to come. Battulga and I argued a little, due to differences in our views. But the broadcasted program was edited, cutting most of our discussion, and included only parts in which I was being offended. The program heavily offended me in public and depicted me as an enemy who betrayed his own country. Well, now I’m about to tell you the truth. In the interview, I said narrow gauge railroad is necessary for Mongolia because it’s economically effective due to its low transportation cost. I’m not saying this alone. All mining sector people are saying the same thing. A non-specialist in the mining sector, or a person who doesn’t have abundant information, would think that D.Damba is a real traitor. I see the broadcasted program as an effort to brainwash people who don’t have much information. I regret it.
Will you appeal to any legal organizations?
I won’t appeal to any legal organization. After all, I didn’t lie. I said the truth, that from a financial and technical perspective, narrow gauge railroad is necessary. I’m not refuting Russian standard railroad. The government submitted a bill to build narrow gauge railroad to the State Great Khural. I thought they sacrificed me in an effort to create a program opposing the bill. After all, D.Damba is not a politician or an authority. I’m not an authority who decides whether to use narrow gauge railroad. Only as a professional, I said narrow gauge railroad is cost efficient.
Do you speak on behalf of someone?
I speak for no individuals but Mongolian miners. I don’t speak on behalf of any politicians.
According to the program, wouldn’t we empty our coal reserves by transporting it through eight aimags? It seemed like Chinese policy is to do so?
Because the program misrepresented the transportation plan, seeming so is inevitable. Specifically, the program presented it as if Mongolia is going to export coal only to China. Mongolia intends to access a maritime transportation network through China. Mongolia ought not to be transacting with only its two neighboring countries. On the other hand, Mongolia has the National Security Council. If the Council decides the narrow gauge railroad threatens national security, it has the authority to forbid it. I do nothing but hold the view that narrow gauge railroad is beneficial, as a professional. I’m not vehemently supporting the narrow gauge railroad. Since mining products require transportation, the cost efficient way to deliver consumers the product is railroad, for a landlocked country.
Would we empty our coal reserves if the narrow gauge railroad is built? How much reserve does Mongolia have?
Mongolia has tremendous reserves. According to the preliminary estimates by geologists, Mongolia has more than 170 billion tons of coal reserve. People say Tavan Tolgoi has an inexhaustible reserve, but it’s only six tons. Today, countries are producing energy using coal, but might soon stop using coal. Some have stopped using it. Perhaps, in 20 years, coal may no longer be used as a fuel. Until then, why shouldn’t we sell some coal and develop our national economy using profit from the sales. Twenty years from now, we may not have any coal consumers. After all, how can we live without selling our minerals?
Is coal to be transported through eight ports?
In the bill submitted by the government to the parliament, there are not eight ports. The bill didn’t mention anything about transporting coal from Gobi Altai and Hovd aimags. A few ports, such as Gashuun-Sukhait, Bichigt and Zamiin-Uud, were mentioned in the bill. But the program heavily misrepresented the number of ports. If we build wide gauge railroad, we will need replacement trucks. Displacing loads at Chinese ports poses threats to the environment and human health. As of today, coal being transported to China is unloaded and gets truck replacement at Tsagaan-Khad. As a result of this load displacement procedure, the environment and human health are severely harmed at Tsgaan-Khad. In addition to this, coal quality decreases if loaded more than once.
How long it would take to boost the Mongolian economy if narrow gauge railroad is used in transportation?
The Government of Mongolia announced that it will export 30 million tons of coal this year and will increase this amount to 50 million tons from next year, as stated in its action plan. The Prime Minister signed a contract to deliver one billion tons of coal to China within the next ten years, during his visit to China. To fulfil the contract, an appropriate transportation system is essential. On the other hand, the program said coal would be exported without supervision. Mongolia has customs administration and border guards. Everything that crosses the border will be supervised and measured. We ought to have a pragmatic attitude toward the issue.
The main thing is that China itself has tremendous coal reserves. Does Mongolia need to deliver its coal to China? Though Mongolia needs to deliver for economic growth, what if Mongolia became dependent on China for coal in the future?
It’s true that China has more coal reserves than Mongolia. But China uses several billion tons of coal annually. China supplies 80 percent of its own demand and buys the remaining 20 percent from foreign countries such as Australia, Russia, Mongolia, Indonesia and Kazakhstan. Mongolia is not China’s only coal supplier. Watching the broadcasted program, I thought some people were not even told what topic they were discussing. For example, B.Lkhagvasuren said, “What are you talking about? I won’t talk about dirty things.” For me, what he was talking about was ambiguous. I would like to highlight that such a program, consisting of various edited parts, shouldn’t be used to harm a man’s reputation.
This interview was edited for clarity.
Sources: Zuunii Medee,
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