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India Ups the Ante in New “Great Game,” Releases Critical Minerals List and Joins MSP

As nations all across the globe scramble to secure critical mineral supply chains against the backdrop of surging demand in the context of the green energy transition and rising geopolitical tensions, India is stepping up its critical mineral resource policy game.

This week, the Indian Ministry of Mines released a comprehensive Critical Minerals List, consisting of 30 metals and minerals deemed critical for India’s ambition for cleaner technologies in electronics, telecommunications, transport and defense, according to the government.

The list comprises the group of 17 rare earth elements (REEs) and six platinum group metals (PGMs) as complexes. It also encompasses four of what ARPN has dubbed the “battery criticals” lithium, cobalt, graphite and nickel (India’s list does not include manganese which rounds out the five battery criticals), as well as antimony, beryllium, bismuth, gallium, germanium, hafnium, indium, molybdenum, niobium, phosphorous, potash, rhenium, silicon, strontium, tantalum, tellurium, tin, titanium, tungsten, vanadium, zirconium, selenium, and cadmium.

Lastly, the list also includes copper, a mainstay metal and key component of the green energy transition which the United States has thus far failed to add to its own list of critical minerals in spite of numerous pushes for its addition.

According to Indian web news hub Rediff.com, the government plans to encourage public and private investment in exploration, mining and processing to secure the country’s critical mineral supply chains, and will seek to “facilitate the adoption of advanced technologies and international collaborations to enhance efficiency and environmental sustainability in the extraction and processing of critical minerals.”

One of the first such international collaborations was just made official during a state visit of India’s Prime Minister Narenda Modi to Washington, D.C. last week, where Modi and U.S. President Joe Biden announced the country’s joining of the Minerals Security Partnership alongside several bilateral and defense deals.

The MSP is a partnership between the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea and several other countries convened in June 2022 as an initiative to bolster supply chains while aiming “to ensure that critical minerals are produced, processed, and recycled in a manner that supports countries in realizing the full economic development potential of their mineral resources.”

As the rest of the world aims to decouple its critical mineral supply chains from China, which has long dominated most of the critical minerals sector across all links of the supply chain, India is looking to harness its geopolitical wealth to become a “global hub for critical mineral production and reinforce its position as a major player in the global economy.”

In keeping with that objective, India’s recent moves have global implications.

At the beginning of this year, a New York Times piece called on G20 leaders gathering in Davos, Switzerland, to “pivot to the new reality provoked by the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the growth of extreme inequalities and aggressive Russian and Chinese autocracies.” 

In the critical mineral realm, these recent events served as a catalyst for a new “Great Game,” which the geopolitics of mineral resource supply had triggered and which gained momentum with the adoption of the Paris agreement in 2015.

India’s recent critical mineral moves are highly relevant in the context of this new “Great Game,” particularly as relations between India and China are strained by an ongoing border conflict and growing regional rivalry, both of which are shaping South Asia’s security landscape and strategic environment.

With India having overtaken China as the world’s most populous country and set to become the third-largest economy in the coming years, India’s recent moves could be seen as a direct challenge by Beijing.

As Frédéric Grere and Manisha Reuter outline for the European Council on Foreign Relations, “New Delhi still exerts a dominant role in South Asia and, specifically, the Indian Ocean, but as China consolidates its position in the region, its attitude towards India has become more assertive. India remains resolute about preventing Chinese hegemony in Asia, repeatedly stressing that a multipolar world starts with a multipolar Asia, and seeking partnerships with a variety of countries, including the US and the EU. Beijing is concerned about India’s growing military ties with the US and tends to consider India’s intentions through the lens of its own rivalry with the US.”

The new Great Game may have just gotten Greater.