A recent opinion piece in Forbes Magazine points out that “The Rare Earths Shortage Isn’t Over Yet.” According to columnist Tim Worstall this is not for a lack of opportunities to mine Rare Earths around the world. The real “chokepoint,” he says, is the “ability to process rare earths,” an area where China’s near total monopoly is most significant.
Pointing to the challenges faced by Australian rare earths mining company Lynas in its quest to open its REE processing plant in Malaysia, a move that would be considered a breakthrough in reducing China’s chokehold, Worstall argues that “Not licensing this plant will mean that the world becomes reliant once again on Chinese supplies, reinforcing that monopoly.”
While there has been plenty of reporting about the Malaysian permitting delays, Worstall points to an interesting aspect, which has not been front and center:
“Myself, simply because I am indeed an excessively cynical person, I would be looking at the financing of the pressure group that is opposing the construction of the plant. But please do note that’s a purely personal opinion. And it would be entirely irresponsible to point to the family shareholdings of some senior Chinese politicians in that country’s rare earth producers.”
As a disclaimer, we haven’t looked at the numbers to which Worstall alludes, but we’re not surprised by his veiled insinuation that Chinese politicians are pulling the strings in Malaysia. Resource policy is (geo) politics after all. [Note: The author's views are his alone and do not represent those of American Resources.]
Regardless of who or what is holding up the processing plant in Malaysia, the U.S. should ensure that its manufacturing base is not at the mercy of such developments. We’re fortunate to have a vast array of critical minerals beneath our own soil – it’s time our policy makers create an environment conducive to harnessing our own mineral potential.