Colonial legacies and unregulated mining practices all through South East Asia have long left a bitter taste in the mouth of so many – including local prospects looking for a leg up.

One of the consequences – a plethora of underexplored and underdeveloped mineral resources spread across a vast and varied region of tensions and possibilities.    

SE Asia became sort of a no-go zone for foreign resources investment, with corruption, political instability, poor infrastructure and a lack of local talent to pull from.

It made the region unattractive to western mining practices, bar for a handful of ballsy foreign miners – some of which did actually create highly successful operations, such as Kingsgate Consolidated’s (ASX:KCN) once controversial Chatree gold mine, Emerald Resources (ASX:EMR) Okavu gold project in Cambodia and PanAust’s copper-gold operation in Laos.

But that’s all changed with the installation of standard mining practices, across the board regulatory processes and breakdown of corruption barriers within Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states.

ASEAN to the rescue

What started as an ASEAN minerals processing initiative in 2016 – the same time an environmental dispute erupted between the Thai government and Kingsgate’s Chatree gold mine – has now become a signature-backed regulator of mining practices for the region.

Standardised mining practices under the 2016-2025 ASEAN Minerals Cooperation Action Plan were put together to strengthen mineral investment – both foreign and domestic – at all stages of the value chain to contribute to economic growth and development.

This led to cooperation and improvement between ASEAN neighbours in areas such as geological survey, resource assessment and mapping, mine rehabilitation, sustainable development licensing and importantly, an ‘open arms’ foreign investment policy.

ASEAN Signatories:

  • Brunei
  • Thailand
  • Cambodia
  • Indonesia
  • Laos
  • Malaysia
  • Myanmar
  • Philippines
  • Singapore
  • Vietnam


SE Asia is welcoming foreign investment using sustainable mining practices. Image via Getty.



The ASX in SE Asia

Australian miners are increasingly recognising the robustness of SE Asia’s resources industry and are more willing to become a part of its mining ecosystem.

Free trade agreements inked with these ‘hidden dragons’ have now given an extra layer of protection for companies and investors – something that had not existed a couple of decades ago.

Since foreign mining investment into SE Asia has become more advanced and flexible, there’s been a recent flurry of ASX-listed explorers venturing into the region. 

There are gold projects in Malaysia, nickel and lithium in Vietnam and Thailand, and gas plays off the coast of Indonesia, to name a few.

In eastern Malaysia, Besra Gold (ASX:BEZ) Bau goldfield is an advanced 3Moz gold project that is on the cusp of development after recently submitting its approved environmental impact study to the Malaysian government for approval to commence mining activities.  

The company reckons the deposit is enormous and has an exploration target of 2-3.2Moz at 1.8-2.5g/t – so does its backer Quantum Metal Recovery – who is pouring in up to US$300m over the course of development. 

Besra is busy getting ready to construct a pilot processing plant that will knock out 400 tonnes per day and provide valuable data and cashflow as it develops the mine.

Matsa Resources (ASX:MAT) is also in Thailand, awaiting exploration permits for its vast areas of lithium-bearing tenements.

The junior recently discovered significant new lithium-bearing pegmatites in Kanchanaburi and Ratchaburi provinces where analyser testing confirmed a mouth-watering 3.45% Li (7.4% Li2O) in lepidolite.

The company also has an agreement with Yongxing Special Materials Technology to test samples at its Chinese processing facility – where initial samples confirmed lithium extraction at a 95% recovery rate.   

Then there’s Pan Asia Metals (ASX:PAM)  which is taking a unique approach to segway itself into the Asian mining landscape.

It’s pushing to become not only a lithium miner in Thailand, but working downstream into lithium refinement with in-country partners such as Vietnamese energy solutions provider VinES.

VinES is no small chess piece on the board by the way, as it just so happens to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of Vietnam’s largest privately owned entity Vingroup.

It plans to mine lithium across its Thai tenements – notably its flagship Reung Kiet project – then refine it in Vietnam.

Also in Vietnam is Blackstone Minerals (ASX:BSX) , which owns the large and low-grade Ta Khoa nickel project.

With a mining inventory of 64.5Mt at a grade of 0.41% nickel, a PFS last year anticipated producing an average of 18,000t of nickel in concentrate per year over a roughly 10-year mine life.

But Blackstone’s ambitions are broader, with the company aiming to head downstream and refine nickel-cobalt-manganese 811 battery precursor for battery producers.

At the end of the March quarter, the company had $16.43m cash in the bank as discussions continue with partners to reach a final JV structure and investment contribution.


Then there’s Indonesia-focused gas play Conrad Asia Energy (ASX:CRD), which holds a 76.5% operating interest in the Duyung PSC in Indonesian waters in the West Natuna region and contains Conrad’s flagship Mako gas field that contains 2C resources of ~413Bcf.

The gas play expanded its resource base in January this year after it inked production sharing contracts (PSC) with the Indonesian government for two highly-prospective gas blocks in off the coast of Aceh. 

By May, Conrad had evaluated the flow tested four discovered gas accumulations that increased 2C resources by a whopping 75% to 214Bcf – 161Bcf of which is attributed to the company as part of the PSC with a net present value of US$88m.

CRD MD Miltos Xynogalas believes that the commerical viability of the projects are robust, and is negotiating gas contracts from regional buyers, with first gas sales from Mako expected in 2025. 

“Conrad’s initial scoping study of gas markets in the region has been positive, and we are optimistic of commercialising these discoveries and delivering a portfolio of growth opportunities to our shareholders,” Xynogalas added.

Gold explorer Far East Gold (ASX:FEG)’s foray into Indonesia is going gangbusters, especially at its Aloe Eumpeuk prospect ate its Woyla project where it intersected an 11.6m quartz zone containing high-grade gold and silver mineralisation. 

This included a 1m interval containing disseminated visible gold and electrum in quartz containing sulphide-rich ginguro bands which returned assays of 18.46g/t gold and 1,539g/t silver from a down-hole depth of 74.5m.

More visible gold was found recently at the Rek Rinti prospect at Woyla that confirmed the lateral extension of high-grade gold-silver mineralisation.

To date, Far East has completed approximately 6,000m of the 10,000m planned Phase 2 diamond drilling program and this is the 5th intercept of visible gold in the Phase 2 program.

Previous project owner Newcrest had noted similarities at the prospect to textures associated with high-grade veins within the Goswowong gold district in North Maluku – which hosts one of the largest gold mines in the country.

South Korea

Just outside of the ASEAN bloc, yet with similar mining strategems, is South Korea, where Southern Gold (ASX:SAU)  has an extensive portfolio of projects covering golf, silver, copper, lithium and REEs.

SAU first entered South Korea exploring for gold and silver, targeting a 1Moz resource and by late 2022 had expanded its search to include copper, lithium and REEs.

The company sees its expansion into critical minerals as playing a key role in providing South Korea with domestic supplies of raw materials for its mature advanced technology industry and clean energy goals.

It has an ongoing 2023 drill program at its Deokon gold-silver project, a Goseong copper-gold play, lodged exploration licenses over five lithium project areas and is exploring two REE projects.

2023 is a busy year for SAU, with drilling either underway or about to start at Goseong, Aphae and Jangnam REE, as well as producing its first lithium assays.


This article does not constitute financial product advice. You should consider obtaining independent advice before making any financial decisions.