Association builds bridges between Canada and China
Nick Zeng, executive director of the China Mining Association of Canada, is a tireless promoter of Ontario’s mineral wealth. A chemical engineer who came to Canada 10 years ago, Zeng serves as a bridge between the two countries, meeting with a resident geologist in Thunder Bay one day and flying off to Beijing the next.
Zeng is the point person for the half dozen or so Chinese exploration companies that have staked more than 6,000 claims covering some 700 square kilometres of ground across Northern Ontario.
“We help them understand the mining industry, we advise them what they should do and help them understand Canada,” said Zeng.
Established three years ago, the China Mining Association of Canada started out as the Canadian office of the China Mining Association, a 10,000-member organization based in Beijing.
“At the beginning, we worked with them as a Canadian office, but it’s not an independent association. It works very closely with the Government of China. Companies in China have to work closely with the government. After a couple of years, we decided that’s not what we wanted to do,” said Zeng. “Now, we’re an independent, non-profit association. We promote Canada in China and help Chinese people come to Canada to invest here.”
Zeng is well-connected. Both of his parents are professional geologists with more than 30 years of experience in the mining industry. .
The China Mining Association of Canada “has some members, but not a lot,” said Zeng. It also has Canadian-based sponsors, including KPMG, Deloitte, the TSX and the Yukon Government. The association has held conferences, workshops and other events in China and Canada to connect Canadian mining, exploration and supply companies with their counterparts in China.
The Chinese exploration companies Zeng works with include both state-owned and private companies.
“We don’t judge them,” he said. “We don’t treat them differently if they’re state-owned. We just want them to do good things in Canada.
“I know some people get worried about state-owned companies, but people have to understand that China has changed a lot. You cannot use the same eyes that saw China 20 or 30 years ago to judge a state-owned company. It’s not right, and, if you ignore the state-owned companies, you are missing a lot of opportunities.
“I know people say you’re dealing with the Communist Party, but things have changed. China has become a country you can’t ignore.
The majority of the money is sitting in state-owned companies. You may not like them, but you have to learn how to deal with them. We have to think what is in Canada’s best interests.”
Chinese exploration companies bear no resemblance to their Canadian counterparts, said Zeng. One company alone has 30,000 employees, he noted. In total, said Zeng, the Chinese mineral exploration industry employs approximately one million people.
“I tell junior mining companies in Canada that when they work with exploration companies from China, don’t only rely on them for money. They should also (take advantage) of their knowledge, expertise and human resources.”
The Chinese and Canadian models each have their strengths, said Zeng. “Here, a junior mining company may have one or two geologists and subcontract out to others. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes not.”
Exploration also benefits from teamwork and, here, China has an advantage because of the size of its exploration companies and the stable teams with years of experience working together, said Zeng.
Decisions on exploration targets in Ontario are ultimately made by geologists in China and are based on publicly available data from the Ontario Geological Survey and advice from resident geologists with the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines. Chinese exploration companies are primarily interested in base metals to feed the country’s booming economy.
The China Mining Association of Canada rents office space to Chinese exploration companies, helps them get their bearings in Canada and accompanies them to meetings with junior mining companies, First Nation communities and provincial government offices. It also arranges for the hiring of prospectors and other exploration services as required.
“It’s like raising a baby. Once they grow up, you let them go, but at the beginning it’s more hands-on,” said Zeng.
The association has signed a memorandum of understanding with Webequie First Nation and hopes to sign another one with the Attawapiskat First Nation.
“The meetings with the First Nations went really well. I was surprised. A lot of people said we were the first exploration company to go there and tell them what we were going to do before we started.”
Like Canadian junior mining companies, Zeng would like to see the Ontario government do more to facilitate understandings with First Nation communities.
“We don’t know what is the traditional territory or who to talk to,” he complained. “There’s no map. There are overlaps, so how do we deal with it? We don’t know. I think the government should do a little more than say, ‘You have to talk to the First Nations.'”
Zeng is anxious to get started on an airborne geophysical study in the James Bay Lowlands and says fieldwork and diamond drilling on the 10 or more blocks of claims that have been staked will follow. A minimum of $2 million per year will be spent on the 6,000 plus claims to keep them in good standing.
“I love Canada,” said Zeng. “Canada is my second home country, so I want to do something good for Canada. At the same time, we can also do some good things for China.”
Canada has a lot to gain by doing business with China, but has been slow to take advantage of the opportunities, he complained.
“Canada should be doing a much better job in China because we have a very good history with China and we should benefit from it,” he said.
“I’m a little disappointed with the federal level because it took them too long to realize it. They should not miss the opportunity to work with China. It would be a huge mistake. I’m not saying you have to like the Government of China. I’m just saying you have to learn how to deal with them.”
Tagged Attawapiskat, business enterprise, Canada, chemical engineer, China, China Mining Association of Canada, Deloitte, First Nations, Greater Sudbury, KPMG, Mining, Nick Zeng, Northern Ontario, Northern Ontario Business, Ontario, partnership, Sudbury, TSX