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Cablegate: Guizhou Coalmine Safety Makes Progress, but Remains

VZCZCXRO3026
RR RUEHGH RUEHVC
DE RUEHCN #0253/01 3130941
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 090941Z NOV 09
FM AMCONSUL CHENGDU
TO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 1950
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3509
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC
RUEAEPA/EPA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 4212

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CHENGDU 000253

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP/CM

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB EMIN ECON PREL PGOV CH
SUBJECT: GUIZHOU COALMINE SAFETY MAKES PROGRESS, BUT REMAINS
PROBLEMATIC

CHENGDU 00000253 001.2 OF 002


1. (U) This cable contains sensitive but unclassified
information - not for distribution on the Internet.

2. (SBU) Summary: Between 2003 and 2008, coalmine deaths in
Guizhou - one of the poorest provinces in China - fell from 973
to 453, an industry regulator told Consul General November 3 in
Guiyang. The official attributed the improvement to increased
closures of mines, tougher standards for obtaining mining
permits, improved structural design in mines, and new rules
mitigating coalmine gas. Coalmine accident rates remain
comparatively high in Guizhou versus the rest of China; China's
passive, government-controlled labor unions have not been a
vocal force for safety improvements. The official requested
renewed cooperation with the United States on mine safety. End
Summary.

Mine Safety: Guizhou's Recent Efforts

-------------------------------------

3. (SBU) In order to better understand labor rights and
conditions in the Guizhou mining sector, Consul General met on
November 3 with Chen Fuqing, Vice Director of the Guizhou
Administration for Work Safety (GAWS). GAWS was established in
2000, and employs about 60 staff working in 5 sub-bureaus in 9
cities and prefectures.

4. (SBU) The mining sector is a vital component of the Guizhou
economy, ranking fifth among Chinese provinces in coal output.
Chen informed CG that small mining operations account for about
70 percent of coal output, and that 90 percent of all mines in
Guizhou are privately operated. To date, there is no foreign
direct investment in Guizhou coalmines.

5. (SBU) Mining safety issues remain problematic throughout
China, where unsafe working conditions and poor worker rights
often lead to deadly accidents. In 2008, China averaged about
1.2 fatalities per million metric tons of coal produced,
according to an official from the National Energy Bureau. Chen
asserted that mine safety is especially problematic in Guizhou
compared to other Chinese provinces and foreign countries. He
informed CG that in 2008 Guizhou averaged 3.84 fatalities per
million metric tons of coal. Despite this comparatively high
rate, it represents a significant decrease from the 2000 Guizhou
rate of 21.3 fatalities per million metric tons of coal. (Note:
By comparison, the U.S. in 2008 had only 0.028 deaths per
million metric tons of coal, according to data from the Mine
Safety and Health Administration. End Note.)

6. (SBU) Chen attributed Guizhou's improved safety record to
four factors:

a. Mine Closures:

At its peak, Guizhou had over 10,000 coalmines but today this
number is only about 1,800. GAWS closes about 10 coalmines per
year based on complaints from ordinary citizens. CG asked about
the role of labor unions in mine safety. Chen responded all
mines have them but that they "work differently in China than in
the U.S." (Comment: Chinese labor unions are subordinate to the
Communist Party, are not independent of management, and lack the
power to strike. Chen's vague response was his safe way of
signaling that labor unions do not play a vocal role in mine
safety issues. This being said, we have to imagine that the
anger of families of victims of mine accidents has added
pressure to the government to improve worker safety. End
Comment.)

CHENGDU 00000253 002.2 OF 002

b. Tougher Standards on Mining Permits

Chen stated that before 2000, obtaining a mining permit was very
easy, only requiring permission from the county government. New
rules now require permit-seekers to obtain approval from the
Provincial Administration of Work Safety, and the Environmental
Protection Department.

c. Improved Coalmine Structural Standards:

New regulations require coalmines to build iron and steel
frameworks before they start coal production. This is strictly
enforced on all coalmines. If mining companies are found to be
non-compliant, they will be fined, required to participate in
safety training, or closed in more serious cases. These
measures have especially helped to reduce the number of
accidents caused by roof cave-ins.

d. New Rules Reducing Mine Gas:

Mine gas, composed primarily of methane, is a natural byproduct
of the geochemical reactions that produce coal. Mining activity
releases trapped mine gas and when mixed with air it can produce
deadly explosions. New regulations require mine gas to be
pumped out before mining activity can begin. In 2008, about 600
million cubic meters of coal gas was pumped out of mines
throughout Guizhou, compared with only 100 million cubic meters
in 2007. In 2005, mine gas explosions caused 86 accidents
leading to 312 deaths, while in 2008 these numbers fell to 21
accidents and 69 deaths. This reflects a drop in the proportion
of accidents caused by mine gas from over 50 percent in 2003 to
less than 20 percent in 2008.

Cooperation with the United States

----------------------------------

7. (SBU) Chen highlighted recent cooperation between GAWS and
the United States through training programs and requested
increased exchanges. The first example was a management and
technology-focused training program held in West Virginia in
1994, which led Guizhou officials to streamline operations by
reducing employees at one large mine from 30,000 to 10,000 while
increasing total output. The second example was the current
coalmine safety program used throughout China, which researchers
from West Virginia University proposed to former Chinese Premier
Zhu Rongji. Acting on these recommendations, Zhu Rongji helped
create the State Administration for Work Safety.
BROWN

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