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Tan Rai bauxite mining in Central Highlands, Vietnam


According to the United States Geological Survey, Vietnam is estimated to hold the world's third-largest bauxite ore reserves, after Guinea and Australia, which accounts for 14.2% of the world’s reserve [1]. Up to 96% of this reserve is located in the Central Highlands [4], of which 975 million tons are in Lam Dong province, 18% of Vietnam’s bauxite reserve base [2]. Although the Vietnamese government approved in April 2006 plans to begin mining bauxite reserves in the Central Highlands [3], it was on November 1, 2007, through the enactment of the Prime Minister’s Decision 167 (Master Plan for Exploration, Mining, Processing and Use of Bauxite Ore in 2007-2015 Period), when the Vietnamese government made official its plan and signed a strategic agreement with the Chinese government to extract bauxite resources in the Central Highlands [2,4]. The Tan Rai project is one of the most important parts of the Master Plan. Between 2007 and 2010, a coordinated opposition was carried out by civil society activists, bloggers, environmentalists, lawyers, religious leaders and senior Communist Party officials, which led to a series of policy debates and high-level reviews of the project’s sustainability, environmental as well as social impact, by various government ministries. A series of letter written by retired General Giap (a heroe of the independence struggle) to the Prime Minister, protesting the government’s plans to go through with the project and warning of China’s invasive economic ties to Vietnam’s core domestic interests, was one of the most effective events at drawing international attention to the issue [2].

In spite of that, the Vietnamese state-owned corporation Vietnam National Coal and Mineral Industries Group (VINACOMIN) went ahead with the mining project: construction began on the Tan Rai Plant in 2008 and in early 2012 it began extracting and processing aluminium from its raw source, bauxite [3, 6, 7]. After 5 years of construction and trial, in September, 2013, Tan Rai bauxite complex officially operated [9]. The greatest concern associated with the bauxite mining lies in the impact of the red mud (bauxite residue) and tailing slurry (waste water discharged during the sifting process) on the Central Highlands’ environment of and its downstream region. Containing high levels of metal oxide and sodium hydroxide, the sludge could cause great damage to water supplies and the surrounding agricultural industry (primarily coffee), as well as to the health and safety of thousands of residents in the area [2,3]. Related to that, some scientists have pointed out that the technologies and the technical design of the Tan Rai factory are problematic, given that Chalieco (a subsidiary of the Aluminium Corporation of China, the world’s third-largest aluminium producer), responsible for the construction and design of the alumina plants, has not used advanced technologies [4, 8].

In addition to that, deforestation, increased vulnerability to drought and floods in the lowlands, relocation and population displacement in a region that is traditionally home to hill tribes and indigenous populations, and the large amount of freshwater required for mining bauxite and producing alumina when water scarcity is growing in the Central Highlands, are also a matter of concern [4].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Tan Rai bauxite mining in Central Highlands, Vietnam
State or province:Lam Dog Province
Location of conflict:Loc Thang town, Bao Lam District
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral ore exploration
Tailings from mines
Mineral processing
Specific commodities:Aluminum/Bauxite

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Initial production capacity for the alumina processing plant targeted 600,000 tons per year by 2010, and then 1,2 million tons per year thereafter [3,4]. By 2013, plant's annual output was expected to be about 650,000 tonnes of alumina [7], but according to the data [10] in 2014, the Tan Rai bauxite-alumina complex churned out 485,000 tonnes, and in 2015, it is expected to produce 540,000 tonnes.

By the terms of the master plan, the project life is 30 years (2007-2036), with a total investment divided into two phases of implementation: from 2007 to 2015 and from 2016 to 2025 [2]. According to Vinacomin, the project is expected to operate for fifty to sixty years [4].

In the words of an official of Bao Lam District, where the project is located, in 2013 the Tan Rai bauxite project covered approximately 2,000 hectares.

It´s estimated that the Tan Rai project would produce 80 to 90 million tons of red mud over its lifespan, while Vinacomin had designed cesspools with a maximum capacity of only 25 million tons [4].

Project area:2,300
Level of Investment for the conflictive project700,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:1000-1,600 households
Start of the conflict:01/11/2007
Company names or state enterprises:Vietnam National Coal and Mineral Industries (VINACOMIN) from Vietnam
China Aluminum International Engineering Corporation Limited (CHALIECO) from China
Relevant government actors:General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam
Prime Minister of Vietnam
Ministry of Industry and Trade of Vietnam´s government
Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment
Government officials and the National Assembly
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Vietnamese NGO Consultancy on Development (CODE).
Vietnam-based spokesperson for the Wildlife Conservation Society
National Assembly’s Committee for Culture, Education, Youth and Children,
Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations (VUSTA)
NGO Viet Ecology Foundation
Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Reporters and the domestic press, Artist-intellectuals, Retired high-level officials, Activist bloggers, Overseas Vietnamese communities, Government officials and the National Assembly
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Mine tailing spills
Health ImpactsPotential: Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Reviews of the project’s sustainability, environmental as well as social impact
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Although the collective citizen action failure to stop the bauxite mines, some positive questions should be pointed out: on the one hand, diverse groups and individuals were able to suspend their differences to form a common opposition. On the other hand, it has had a considerable impact both on the Vietnam´s government and Vietnam’s highest legislative body, the National Assembly. As a result, a conference to examine the environmental impact of the mines as well as a special investigation by the Ministry of Industry and Trade took place in 2009. It was the first national seminar of its kind in Vietnam, where both critics and pro-development had the opportunity to express their opinions. This Scientific Workshop was an attempt to include these discussions within the structures of the Vietnamese political system.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Prime Minister’ s Resolution No 167

Mineral Law (2010)

Prime Minister’ s Resolution No 66

The Law on Water Resources (1999)

Prime Minister’ s Resolution No 97

Law of Environmental Protection (1993)

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Marston, H. (2012). Bauxite Mining in Vietnam’s Central Highlands: An Arena for Expanding Civil Society? Contemporary Southeast Asia Vol. 34, No. 2, pp. 173–96.

U.S. Geological Survey (2009). Bauxite and Alumina. Mineral Commodity Summaries.

Hoang, H. (2009). Sustainable Development and Exhaustible Resources: The Case of Bauxite Mining in Vietnam.

Whitney, H. (2013) Vietnam: Water Pollution and Mining in an Emerging Economy. Asian-Pacific Law & Policy Journal. Vol. 15:1, pp. 25-57

Morris, J. (2013). The Vietnamese Bauxite Mining Controversy: the Emergence of a New Oppositional Politics. A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the Requirements for the degree of Doctor in Philosophy In Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management In the Graduate Division Of the University of California, Berkeley

Can Vietnam Greens Block a Bauxite Mining Project? (accessed 18/07/2015),8599,2041746,00.html#ixzz1FMroMACj

MOIT, experts disagree on bauxite projects (accessed 18/07/2015)

Vietnamese Authorities to Inspect Controversial Bauxite-Mining Plan (accessed 18/07/2015)

Tan Rai bauxite plant to officially run this September (accessed 18/07/2015).

Central Highlands bauxite mines claimed to be safe (accessed 18/07/2015).

New logistics project to serve Tan Rai bauxite complex (accessed 18/07/2015)

Meta information

Contributor:Raquel Piñeiro Rebolo. Máster en Gestión Fluvial Sostenible y Gestión Integrada de Aguas, Asignatura ‘Ecología política y gestión de Aguas’.
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2066