China is reportedly exploring the possibility of limiting exports of rare earth minerals to the United States, which may create a new source of tension between the two powerhouse countries.
China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology proposed draft controls on the production and export of rare earth minerals in January, and provided 30 days for public comment.
During the 30-day period, industry executives were asked to assess the risk, and how the United States and European companies would be affected by the move.
So, how would the United States be affected?
The halting of exports would pose a problem because these rare earth minerals are crucial for the manufacturing of American F-35 fighter jets.
Rare earth minerals include a set of seventeen metallic elements that are a critical component of more than 200 products across a wide range of applications, specifically high-tech devices.
These devices include cellular telephones, computer hard drives, electric and hybrid vehicles, airplanes, flat-screen monitors and televisions. Significant defense applications include electronic displays, guidance systems, lasers, and radar and sonar systems.
Though they make up a small percentage of the product by weight, value or volume, these rare-earth minerals are essential for the device to function.
China currently controls about 80 percent of the global supply of rare earth minerals, and sees its power as leverage that can be used against the West, the Epoch Times reports. Though, it remains unclear whether China can truly weaponize exportation, as it could backfire by forcing other countries to increase their own production.
This announcement does not come as a surprise.
“The writing has been on the wall for decades, and now we are seeing first-hand why we’ve been raising the alarm that China’s dominance over the rare earth and critical minerals industry is a highly volatile and geopolitical concern,” USA Rare Earth CEO Pini Althaus said.
“To counter the efforts of the CCP to put a chokehold on defense and other high-tech metals, the U.S. and its allies must continue to invest in this space,” he added.
He urged that the timeline to increase production capacity at home “could in fact be very, very short” with more government support and industry innovation.
In fact, President Trump last year signed an executive order to expand and strengthen domestic mining of rare earth and other critical minerals.
“The United States now imports 80 percent of its rare earth elements directly from China, with portions of the remainder indirectly sourced from China through other countries,” Trump said in the executive order. “In the 1980s, the United States produced more of these elements than any other country in the world, but China used aggressive economic practices to strategically flood the global market for rare earth elements and displace its competitors.”
And, last year, a bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers introduced proposals aimed at reducing American dependence on China through providing tax incentives for the rare earths industry.
“The global pandemic has highlighter oru reliance on China to meet our demand for critical minerals that are used in products such as electric and hybrid cars, computers, and military equipment,” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) told the Epoch Times.
“It is essential for our national security and economic interests that we reduce our nation’s dependence on China for rare earth minerals. I co-sponsored the RARE Act to incentivize domestic production and develop our own consistent supply chain. To remain a world leader in technological and military innovation, we must act.”