In a recent analysis written for Reuters, Chris Buckley notes how China’s export strategy for its rare earth minerals hits the Achilles heel of our globe’s high tech manufacturing sector. China supplies about 97 percent of the world’s demand for rare earths metals, which possess magnetic, luminescent and other properties used in emerging clean energy technologies, computers and electronics.
Writes Buckley, “China, as other producers have given up environmentally destructive mining of rare earths, now supplies 97 percent of the world’s demand for the metals… For a country with a voracious appetite for imported commodities, it is one over which China can exert control as an exporter. It now wants the metals for itself for technology that it can use at home and export.”
China this year has slashed export quotas to about 40 percent below 2009 levels. A recent statement by Secretary of State Clinton sums up how Japan, the US, and the EU are feeling. “This served as a wake-up call,” she said. “So we welcome the Chinese statement that it will resume normal trading in these materials but I think the entire world has to seek additional supplies.”
China is more willing than other nations to exploit its natural resources in order to get at the rare stuff. I also note that India has undertaken plans of its own, reopening rare earth mineral processing plants that have been idle since 2004. And, there’s even talk of U.S. lawmakers backing plans to restart a shuttered operation in California, located about 30 miles from the Nevada border.
The Golden State is versatile and yields a bounty of natural resources, above and below ground. Said operation’s owners, on their website, report that California at one point provided 40% of the world’s rare earth supplies. If you’ve ever driven to Vegas via Interstate 15, you’re passing by the rare earths operation just as the mirage-like neon of Primm’s stateline casinos appear in the distance.
South American countries are more likely to become providers, as are African nations; than any EU or North American nation. In both regions, China has become very actively involved in building transportation infrastructure and partnerships in order to claim their share of rare earth.
Learn about rare earth minerals here.