It’s the big elephant in the resource room – China.
The recently-released 130-page long declassified version of the Defense Industrial Base Report mention the words “China” or “Chinese” a “whopping 229 times” – for good reason. As the Department of Defense argues in the report, “China’s domination of the rare earth element market illustrates the potentially dangerous interaction between Chinese economic aggression, guided by its strategic industrial policies and vulnerabilities and gaps in America’s manufacturing and defense industrial base.”
From a materials point of view, the Rare Earths segment may still stand as the best illustration of Chinese hegemonic ambitions in the resource realm, though a look at Chinese attempts to jockey for pole position in the battery space is equally telling. (In both cases, however, friends of ARPN will appreciate that it’s easier to achieve hegemony when your competitor, as in the U.S.’s case, doesn’t prioritize resource production.)
From a geographic perspective, the Arctic region has increasingly emerged as a central theater for Chinese resource war games. Having obtained observer status to the Arctic Council in 2013, China has stepped up its activity in (and relating to) the Arctic circle region in recent years. In 2017, a document released by the Chinese regime outlined the incorporation of the Arctic into its “new Silk Road Strategy,” with increased diplomacy and investment in the region, while a white paper released this January further emphasized the “importance of economic and scientific development in the Arctic strategy.” China has also participated in various governance and rule-making processes for ship operation and fishing in the region outside the umbrella of the Arctic Council.
Most recently, the Chinese government announced the launch of a new polar icebreaker, Snow Dragon 2. While framed as “scientific research into polar ice coverage, environmental conditions and biological resources,” Harriet Moynihan, writing for Chatham House, says that “[i]t has not gone unnoticed, though, that China’s new icebreakers are also useful in testing the feasibility of moving cargo across the Arctic. China’s plans for a Polar Silk Road, as part of its ambitious multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, include developing Arctic shipping routes.”
Meanwhile, observers worry that recent U.S. disagreements with Greenland over Thule Air Base, located in the northwestern part of Greenland and home to the 821st Air Base Group, “could open the door for Beijing to swoop in and further realize its Arctic ambitions, according to Greenland media.” Against this backdrop, the growing realization on the part of U.S. stakeholders that the global race for the metals and minerals fueling 21st Century technology and our everyday lives is heating up – as evidenced by DoD’s Defense Industrial Base Report is not only welcome, it is necessary.
As retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. John Adams wrote for The Hill last week, the “threat of China’s strategy isn’t new, but the results of China’s now decades-long planning and execution is,” and “shocking import dependence on minerals and metals [from China] is merely a microcosm of the problem.”The obvious answer to this growing challenge is a “comprehensive approach to U.S.competitiveness” and resource policy as a whole. Here’s hoping that once we leave the dust settles after this week’s midterm Congressional elections, policy makers are able to focus on the necessary reforms. As we’ve argued before — China will not wait for us to get our resource house in order.