Featured Faculty: David Landry

David Landry is an Assistant Professor of Political Economy at Duke Kunshan University. In addition to his teaching role, he has been co-leading the China and the Global South Cluster at the CSCC and is the principal investigator of a Faculty Research & Creative Activity Project titled “Mapping Chinese Mines around the World,” which receives funding from the CSCC. His project involves assembling comprehensive information on Chinese-owned mining operations globally, highlighting their locations, operational histories, and associated corporate social responsibility initiatives. This research is poised to shed light on the global footprint of Chinese mining enterprises and their socio-economic and environmental impacts. We are delighted to feature Professor Landry in our faculty interview series. In this interview, we explore the progress and insights of his research, its broader implications for understanding Chinese mining activities worldwide, and the future directions of his work.

Could you provide an overview of your project “Mapping Chinese Mines around the World” and what inspired you to undertake this research?

As part of that research project, I assembled a research team to compile publicly available information about Chinese-owned mining projects around the world, which will inform a forthcoming book. Among other things, we are collecting information about the location of Chinese-owned mines, their operational history and expected lifespan, and the resources they produce, in addition to the environmental, social, and governance safeguarding initiatives that accompany them. While this data exists for many individual mines, it is scattered and cumbersome to access. I decided to compile this data after coming to the realization that—despite how much popular attention China’s mining activity around the world gets—we know relatively little about it. More specifically, when I downloaded existing mining projects datasets to use them as part of my research, I was surprised by how many errors and omissions they contained.

What have been some of the most significant findings from your research so far, particularly in terms of the operational histories and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) safeguarding initiatives of Chinese-owned mining operations?

Though most investments abroad by Chinese mining companies have taken place in the past decade, I was surprised to find how far back some Chinese mining investments go. For instance, the Marcona mine in Peru, which is owned through subsidiaries by the Shougang Group, ultimate resulted from an initial investment made by Shougang in Peru more than 30 years ago. In a similar vein, I was surprised to find that some Chinese companies have been engaged in different types of ESG initiatives for decades. For instance, according to one of its executives, Zijin Mining—a large, diversified, Chinese mining company with dozens of projects around the world—has been engaged in ESG safeguarding in one form or another since 1998. Finally, though listed firms are obligated to report on ESG, some companies’ reporting goes beyond what is required of them.

How do you see the global footprint of Chinese mining enterprises evolving in the next decade, particularly in terms of socio-economic and environmental impacts?

I expect mining investments in sectors, such as iron ore and bauxite, to slow down. In past decades, many of these investments were made by Chinese steel and aluminum producers who needed raw materials to process in their facilities and sell to downstream construction firms who were facing huge demand. Similarly, as the world moves away from coal for energy generation, I expect foreign investments in coal mines to slow. On the other hand, I expect investments in sectors like cobalt, copper, lithium, and nickel—some of the critical minerals that will power new green technologies—to continue growing.

What challenges have you faced in compiling the comprehensive dataset for your project, and how have you addressed them?

Issues of data quality among existing databases covering both Chinese companies and mining projects have taken my research assistants and I countless hours to address. In total, the databases we have worked on contain more than 7,000 entries, and each of them had to be verified (and re-verified) for accuracy.

What role have your research assistants played in this project, and how has their involvement contributed to its success?

My research assistants have provided invaluable help with this work. They reviewed a great deal of literature on the Chinese private sector, the mining industry, and ESG safeguarding, in addition to diligently conducting much of the verification discussed above.  

Can you elaborate on the next stages of your research?

I am currently working on two research projects that will make use of the data my research assistants and I have collected as part of this work. First, I am writing an academic book on China’s mining activity around the world, which I mentioned above. Second, I am writing a few journal articles exploring the structure of China’s mining sector, the determinants of where, and in what sub-sectors, Chinese mining companies invest, and the drivers of their ESG activities.