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New Year, New Round of Tech Wars Escalation?

Happy New Year! They may say “Out with the Old, in with the New,” but if the waning days of 2023 are any indication of what is to come in 2024, we’ll likely continue down the path we’ve been on for the past twelve months, at least when it comes to the Tech Wars.

Somewhat lost in the shuffle of work parties, family gatherings and holiday shopping was the Chinese government’s announcement on December 21 that it would ban the export of technology to make rare earth magnets, adding to a ban already in place on extraction and separation technologies for REEs.

In what Reuters calls an “escalating battle with the West over control of critical minerals,” Beijing significantly tightened rules guiding exports of several metals in 2023. (see ARPN’s reprise post of 2023’s main events in the critical minerals realm for more on China’s tightening of the export control ratchet).

Don Swartz, CEO of American Rare Earths, a company currently developing a REE mine and processing facility in Wyoming, sees China’s move, which follows a November 2023 directive from the Chinese government to REE exporters to report transaction details, as a clear sign that “China is driven to maintain its market dominance,” with Swartz adding that “[t]his is now a race.”

Meanwhile, for all the tit for tat in the grander scheme of the Tech Wars and a flurry of activity on the resource policy front, the West has struggled to effectively decouple its critical mineral supply chains from China.

In the case of rare earths, China, which still accounts for nearly 90% of global refined output, controls the refinement process, and area that has Western REE companies struggling because of “technical complexities and pollution concerns” in the solvent extraction process, as Reuters points out.

Nonetheless, experts believe the latest announcement should be a clarion call that dependence on China in any part of the value chain is not sustainable.” 

The West may have kicked off the new year already, but Chinese New Year is still upon us. 2023, the Lunar Year of the Rabbit, was supposed to bring us relaxation, fluidity, quietness and contemplation.”  What we got, was an escalation of the Tech Wars, more resource nationalism and more geopolitical instability.  At the same time, these developments also served as catalysts kicking efforts to strengthen domestic supply chains into high gear.

With 2024 moving us into the Lunar Year of the Dragon, the overall energy of which is said to be vital and competitive,” we may be in for a tumultuous ride.

Read ARPN’s Year in Review – A Look at 2023 Through the Prism of Critical Mineral Resource Policy here