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Thursday, November 30, 2000, updated at 19:06(GMT+8)

Qaidam Experiencing a "Gold Rush"

The Qaidam Basin, in northwest China's Qinghai Province, has become an attractive spot for investment since China launched an ambitious drive to develop the vast western areas.

The Mongolian-Tibetan-Kazak Autonomous Prefecture of Haixi, where Qaidam Basin is located, absorbed 1 billion yuan of investment this year from Australia, Italy, New Zealand and China's coastal areas, said Ren Zonggao, a prefecture government official.

The majority of investors are opening up gold and iron mines or are involved in potash fertilizer production, he added.

Abundant reserves of oil, natural gas, borax, asbestos, gypsum and metals have earned Qaidam the reputation of a "treasure basin". Qaidam leads China in potassium, magnesium, sodium and lithium reserves. The Qarhan Lake at Qaidam has 60 billion tons of salt, which is enough for worldwide consumption for 2,000 years.

To date, Chinese geologists have discovered 22 oilfields and six gasfields with total reserves of 225 million tons of oil and 150 billion cubic meters of gas.

Sino-Mining International of Australia, the first foreign company to arrive in Qaidam for venture prospecting, has invested US$2.1 million into the prospecting of gold mines at Tanjianshan. The second phase investment for the project is to utilize from 20 million to US$35 million.

"Owing to remoteness and lack of development, the prospecting of natural resources at Qaidam is still in a primitive state, which provides excellent opportunities for overseas companies with abundant funds and advanced technology," said George Jiang, who is in charge of the project.

Gold mine prospecting at Tanjianshan is only the beginning of large scale investment in China and will lay a solid foundation for exploitation of other resources in Qaidam, he added.

The prospecting at the 370-sq-km area shows that the gold reserve is roughly the same as China's estimate of 50 tons, Jiang said. He predicted that a gold mine with an annual production capacity of three tons will be built in three years.

Agip China Co. of Italy is to invest US$8 million to co-develop an oil and gas project in the Sebei area.

To accelerate the development of Qaidam Basin, the government of Qinghai developed a set of preferential treatment policies in terms of land use and taxation for domestic and foreign investors.

Construction of new roads is high on the agenda of the provincial government. The building of a highway linking Qaidam with Xining, the provincial capital, and other provinces is underway, said Wang Tingdong, deputy director of the Provincial Communications Bureau.

At present, a sound infrastructure system has taken shape. A number of new towns and new roads have been built at Qaidam.

Liu Zhongmin, manager of a Hong Kong-funded sylvite company, said, "The investment environment at Qaidam is much better than I expected. Moreover, our local partners, who are enthusiastic, straightforward and efficient, are trustworthy."

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The Qaidam Basin, in northwest China's Qinghai Province, has become an attractive spot for investment since China launched an ambitious drive to develop the vast western areas.

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