On the heels of the coronavirus pandemic having exposed the West’s overreliance on Chinese supplies of mineral resource supplies, Russia’s war on Ukraine has set off a potential realignment of critical mineral resource supply chains that warrants attention.
Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has largely isolated it on the global front both diplomatically and economically, and, with sweeping sanctions taking hold, the Western world has turned elsewhere to meet certain critical mineral needs previously supplied by Russian companies and halted shipments of materials to the Russian Federation.
Unsurprisingly for followers of ARPN, Russian buyers have begun turning to China to plug shortfalls.
A case in point:
With Ukraine and Australia, two of Russia’s key suppliers of alumina before the war, halting shipments to Russia, China’s alumina exports to Moscow have skyrocketed in recent months. In March, Russia had bought 9,950 metric tons of alumina from China, amounting to almost 10 times more than purchases for the same period in 2021. In May, according to Bloomberg News, Russia received a whopping 190,000 metric tons from China, bringing the year-to-date figure to 380,000 – almost 1,000% higher than the numbers for the same period in 2021.
While to date, Beijing has walked a carefully calculated line on Russia’s war on Ukraine emphasizing its concern with violence while maintaining the need to respect territorial integrity and security interests of all parties, China stands to gain major strategic opportunities from filling the void left by a Western business pullout from the Russian market, both in terms of imports and exports. China will also be able to further its grip on global critical minerals via access to Russia’s vast mineral riches.
In a telephone conversation earlier this month, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry readout cited by Newsweek, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed support for “each other’s core interests,” with Xi telling Putin that “China stands ready to promote the stable and long-term development of pragmatic bilateral cooperation with Russia,” and is “ready to continue mutual support with Russia on issues concerning core interests and major concerns, such as sovereignty and security, and to deepen strategic coordination between the two countries.”
With China and Russia the number one and number two global producers and processors for many of the metals and minerals underpinning 21st Century technologies, the stakes cannot be underestimated. For years, ARPN sounded the alarm with regards to the lack of awareness of the geopolitics of mineral resource security, but it took the confluence of a global pandemic, subsequent supply chain challenges amidst growing demand, rising resource nationalism in the Southern hemisphere and Russia’s war on Ukraine to get stakeholders’ full attention to the issue. Promising efforts to reduce our nation’s overreliance on metals and minerals from our adversaries are currently underway.
However, as we have previously pointed out:
“Those familiar with the inner-workings of Washington, D.C. know all too well that particularly in an election year policy efforts can quickly lose steam or fizzle over attempts to placate certain constituencies. Against all affirmations to strengthen domestic supply chains, the not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) sentiment is still strong.”
Ultimately though, with the stakes as high as they are today, a comprehensive “all-of-the-above” approach to mineral resource security, from mine to manufacturing and across all segments of the value chain, is the only way to, in U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s recent words, “bet on ourselves and win the competition for the future.”