A national survey reveals the importance of mining to China and the Chinese, and uncovers a wealth of information on the benefits and impacts of mining that contribute to public acceptance and the industry’s ‘social licence to operate’.

The challenge

Understanding what constitutes a social licence to operate for mining in China

China has the largest mining and mineral processing industry in the world and mining development has contributed greatly to China’s rapid economic and social development over the past 30 years.

As in many countries around the world, the industry must also demonstrate it has a ‘social licence to operate’ among communities that are close to operations and within society more broadly.

Our response

Understanding what people in China think about mining

In collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Social Science, East China Normal University, and Sishuan Normal University, we set out to understand more about what people in China think about mining.

Report cover of Chinese attitudes towards mining - a citizen survey, showing a closeup of the face of a coal-dust covered Chinese mine worker in a hard hat

Report cover: Chinese attitudes towards mining - a citizen survey

We wanted to understand how the impacts and benefits of mining, and the relationship between the mining industry, government and society, affect the level of acceptance of mining among China’s citizens.

We surveyed 5,122 Chinese citizens, using an online survey approach, as well as face-to-face interviews, about their attitudes toward the mining industry.  We sampled citizens in mining regions, comparable non-mining regions and metropolitan areas between late 2013 and the first quarter of 2014.

Their responses were analysed and and a summary of key finding was released in the  report: Chinese attitudes toward mining: Citizen Survey – 2014 Results.

The results

Fair distribution of benefits leads to greater acceptance

Responses to questions about the importance of mining to the Chinese and China, presented as a dashboard with three dials. Each dial shows how strongly respondents agree with a statement on a scale from one (strongly disagree) to seven (strongly agree).

The statements on the dials and the responses shown are:

  • Mining contributes significantly to China's economy. Dial at 1 o'clock (agree).
  • Mining is important for China's future prosperity. Dial at 1 o'clock (agree).
  • Mining will be less important for China in the future. Dial at 2 o'clock (agree more strongly).

Mining was viewed as important for China’s economy and future prosperity but many believe it will become less important over time.

Key findings from the survey reveal:

  • Overall, mining was viewed as central to China and moderately perceived as a significant contributor to China’s economy, standard of living, and as being important to China’s future prosperity.
  • The strongest positive predictor of acceptance of mining was general economic benefits (financial benefits for family, self and average Chinese), followed by employment and community benefits, then regional infrastructure development.
  • Impacts on the environment, followed by impact on agricultural and tourism sectors, and impact of living cost were the strongest negative predictor of the acceptance of mining.
  • Participants across all regions perceived that the benefits from mining were not distributed fairly, and when asked whether the benefits of mining outweigh the perceived impacts, the mean response was below the mid-point. In particular, participants from metropolitan areas reported significantly lower benefits in comparison to those from mining and non-mining regions. Participants living in mining regions held a more positive view and were the most accepting of mining.
  • Distributional fairness in particular appears to be very important in China for building trust and acceptance of the mining industry. Chinese trust and accept the mining industry more when benefits from mining are shared equitably.

This survey forms part of a larger CSIRO program of work to understand and articulate the views of citizens in mining jurisdictions around the world. This is the third published report as part of this program, alongside national reports of Australia and Chile.

This project was funded by the Australia-China Council (ACC) of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), with in-kind contributions from CSIRO, the Chinese Academy of Social Science, East China Normal University, and Sichuan Normal University.

Download the report

Chinese attitudes toward mining: citizen survey report.

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