WASHINGTON – China is reportedly studying the possibility of curbing the export of rare earth minerals to the United States, which may become a new source of friction between the two countries.
China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology in January proposed draft controls on the production and export of rare earth minerals and provided 30 days for public comment.
During the comment period, industry executives were asked to assess how US and European companies could be affected if Beijing decided to cut off rare earth exports during a bilateral dispute, the Financial Times reported, citing people involved in the discussions.
« The government wants to know if the United States may have trouble making F-35 fighter jets if China imposes an export ban, » a Chinese government adviser told the Financial Times.
Industry executives were also asked to comment on how quickly the United States could obtain rare earths from alternative suppliers or increase its production capacity.
Rare earths are 17 metals that are required in the manufacture of airplanes, computers, cell phones, electricity generation and transmission systems, and advanced electronics.
China controls about 80 percent of the world’s rare earth mineral supply and sees its dominance as a lever that can be used against the West. It’s unclear whether China can really weaponize rare earth exports, as it could backfire by forcing other countries to increase their own production capacity.
The timeline for increasing production capacity in the country « could be very, very short » with more government support and industry innovation, according to Pini Althaus, CEO of USA Rare Earth, a mining company developing the deposit of rare earth Round Top. in Texas.
« The writing has been on the wall for decades, and now we are seeing first hand why we have been raising the alarm that China’s dominance over the rare earths and critical minerals industry is a highly volatile geopolitical concern, » said Althaus. in a statement.
« To counter the CCP’s effort to curb defense and other high-tech metals, the United States and its allies must continue to invest in this space. »
Former President Donald Trump last year signed an executive order to expand and strengthen the national mining of rare earths and other critical minerals.
« The United States now imports 80 percent of its rare earth elements directly from China, with parts of the remainder coming indirectly from China through other countries, » Trump stated 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. »
Last year, a bipartisan group of legislators from the House of Representatives and the Senate also put forward proposals aimed at reducing the United States’ dependence on China by providing tax incentives for the rare earth industry.
« The global pandemic has highlighted our dependence on China to meet our demand for critical minerals used in products such as electric and hybrid cars, computers and military equipment, » Representative Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) told The Epoch Times. . “It is essential to our national security and economic interests that we reduce our nation’s dependence on China for rare earth minerals. I co-sponsored the RARE Law to incentivize domestic production and develop our own consistent supply chain. To remain a world leader in technological and military innovation, we must act. «
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Epoch Times.
President Joe Biden, during his election campaign, pledged to « accelerate innovation in supply chain resilience » and address « issues such as dependence on rare earth minerals. »