Mineral resources include large reserves of coal and iron ore, plus adequate to abundant supplies of nearly all other industrial minerals. Besides being a major coal producer, China is the world’s fifth largest producer of gold and in the early twenty-first century became an important producer and exporter of rare metals needed in high-technology industries.
The rare earth reserves at the Bayan Obi mine in Inner Mongolia are thought to be the largest in any single location in the world. Outdated mining and ore-processing technologies are being replaced with modern techniques, but China’s rapid industrialization requires imports of minerals from abroad. In particular, iron ore imports from Australia and the United States have soared in the early 2000s as steel production rapidly outstripped domestic iron ore production.
The major areas of production in 2004 were coal (nearly 2 billion tons), iron ore (310 million tons), crude petroleum (175 million tons), natural gas (41 million cubic meters), antimony ore (110,000 tons), tin concentrates (110,000 tons), nickel ore (64,000 tons), tungsten concentrates (67,000 tons), unrefined salt (37 million tons), vanadium (40,000 tons), and molybdenum ore (29,000 tons).
In order of magnitude, bauxite, gypsum, barite, magnesite, talc and related minerals, manganese ore, fluorspar, and zinc also were important. In addition, China produced 2,450 tons of silver and 215 tons of gold in 2004. The mining sector accounted for less than 0.9 percent of total employment in 2002 but produced about 5.3 percent of total industrial production.