After months of rumblings, it appears that China is gearing up to play its “rare earths card” again.
Citing people involved in a government consultation, the Financial Times reports that Beijing is gauging exactly how badly companies in the United States and Europe, including U.S. defense contractors, would be affected by plans to restrict exports of rare earth elements.
According to Chinese media, REE exports had already dropped by more than 20 percent following the passage of a new broad export control law restricting sales of items relating to Chinese national security that went into effect on December 1, 2020. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has since proposed more specific language to impose controls on REE production and exports.
The development ties into the overall context of a deterioration of Chinese-American diplomatic and trade relations against the backdrop of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with the buildout of 5G technology having emerged as a new frontier in the deepening tech war between the two global players.
With China controlling more than 70% of global REE output, the specter of China weaponizing its position — yet again — is a serious threat to our national security and economic wellbeing. This is especially true when one considers that, while crucial, rare earths are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg when considering our overall critical mineral resource dependencies — a fact for which USGS has just provided the annual reminder with the release of its Mineral Commodity Summaries 2021, which lists China 24 times as one of the major import sources of metals and minerals for which our net import reliance is 50% or greater.
2020 has underscored the urgency of shoring up our domestic critical mineral resource supply chains, and has yielded important progress with regards to policies aimed at reducing our over-reliance on foreign, and especially Chinese metals and minerals.
While the Biden Administration is — understandably — reviewing the preceding Administration’s policies, it is important that stakeholders realize that “we can’t admire the problem anymore. We don’t have the luxury of time.”