The “rare earths”, also called rare earth metals or rare earth oxides, or lanthanides are a set of 17 soft white heavy metals.
The uses, applications and demand for rare earth elements have expanded over the years. Globally, most rare earths are used for catalysts and magnets in traditional and low-carbon technologies. Other important uses of rare earths are applicable to the production of alloys, glasses and high performance electronics, such as for oil refining and diesel additives. Rare earths in this category are used in hybrid and electric vehicle engines, wind turbine generators, hard drives, portable electronics, mobile phones, microphones, speakers, etc.
And also in this field – which also concerns clean energy and low environmental impact – an important game is being played between Washington and Beijing.
At a summit between the United States of America, Japan, India and Australia held not long ago, strengthening rare earth cooperation between the four countries became a key issue. Indeed, Washington has always hoped to reduce its dependence on rare earths and minerals from other countries. But the US government’s review of key minerals and rare earth supply chains says that even with radical changes, the United States of America will still have at least ten years to become self-sufficient.
Indeed, over the past three years, the US administration’s attention to rare earth problems has increased. Rare earths have become a key piece of evidence for some US politicians to show that “China threatens US security,” and it has also become an important motivation for the White House to reformulate its rare earth policy. Indeed, over-politicizing the rare earth issue and even linking it to national security will do more harm than good to both the PR of China and the United States of America itself.
First, Washington does not have a clear understanding of the current situation of the rare earth mining industry. Currently, the vast majority of rare earth products are produced in China, which is due to the fact that China’s low-cost mining has led to the closure of rare earth mines in other countries, so the model of rare earths rare earths such as chains of processing industries that are gradually developing in China, not and because of the Chinese monopoly, or even the extraction of these in the People’s Republic.
Currently, China’s rare earth reserves have fallen from over 70% of world production, to around 30%, making China the world’s largest importer of rare earths. In fact, many countries have rare earth mines, and rare earth reserves outside of China can be used by everyone for hundreds of years.
From the current point of view, the advantage that the Chinese industry derives from rare earths is gradually shifting from the scale of extraction to that of their processing. The processing of rare earths is fundamental for the Chinese, as most of the main patents in the production of rare earths are still controlled by Western countries.
First, the fulcrum of future world competition is the capacity for technological innovation. The key path to China’s industry improvement from owning rare earths lies in technological innovation, rather than in expanding the market share of mining and processing those.
Although China has tightened its control over the rare earth industry in recent years, this is not a simple export ban, but mainly through the improvement of environmental protection and processing technology requirements to promote the improvement of the industry. While these measures have stimulated the rise in prices of rare earth products, they are far from threatening the national security of the United States.
Second, the shares of the United States of America have increased their financial burden. During the Trump administration, the White House linked the supply of rare earths to national security and joined Australia and other countries to demand the exclusion of Chinese rare earth products in the defense sector.
However, since the human and environmental costs of rare earth mining in Western countries are much higher than those in developing countries, it is absolutely unlikely that the minerals they mine are competitive in the market and Western governments are paying for it.
Due to the imaginary Chinese threat alone, the US Department of Defense is investing huge capital, which will further increase the burden on citizens due to the country’s high fiscal deficit.
Furthermore, the rare earth processing industry almost no longer exists in the United States of America. Rare earths mined in that state must be transported to China for processing. This so-called “get rid of Chinese rare earth addiction” is actually self-deception. If the United States of America wants to rebuild the entire chain of rare earth processing plants, it will not survive based on the war industry alone (as in the case of Afghanistan 2001-2021), unless the US administration convinces Congress, which can use taxpayers’ money to indefinitely subsidize these military installations anywhere in the world.
Before Congress decides any steps in any industry, entrepreneurs rarely venture to invest in building rare earth factories, as in this case. Thus, the White House expectation of “ten years of self-sufficiency” is actually an overly optimistic and unrealistic evaluation result.
Until China fully enforces the ban on exports of rare earths, it will be difficult for the United States of America to be able to rebuild its industry. This was Trump’s hope to bring the manufacturing industry back to the United States of America through the imposition of tariffs.
Third, the weakening of mutual trust in Sino-US cooperation can easily lead to erroneous strategic judgments. In the current complex international economic and political situation, Beijing and Washington are both competitors and partners. The competition between China and the United States of America is not a battle to the death between opponents who cannot stand each other, but requires healthy competition and cooperation on the basis of mutual trust. For a long period of time, the competition between the two will focus mainly in the economic and technological sectors, especially in the high-tech sectors, which will determine the future of the two countries and also of the world.
Some politicians and interest groups in the United States of America have spread the generic “Chinese threat theory” for their own interests. The “rare earth threat theory,” in particular, obviously carries the shadow of the US military industry group and mine owners.
When policies are subservient to interest groups, if the proliferation of conspiracy theories and threats are not contained, they will weaken mutual trust in cooperation between countries, and even increase the risk of strategic misjudgment between the two major powers. . This is detrimental to global peaceful development.
The Chinese side also needs to be direct and not immersed in the context of low-priced rare earth raw materials and / or monopoly reserves of these minerals. What the RP of China is pursuing is the transformation from a country of extraction of rare earths to a country of processing and production of rare earths: and all this is manifesting itself since large funds have been invested in the field of rare earth science and technology, projects that advance in great strides.
In short, the US policy of independence from rare earths is just wishful thinking and has no practical significance for the United States of America itself.
Regardless of how others speculate, as long as the PR of China continues to adhere to a pragmatic policy in the rare earth industry, and maintain cooperation open to development concepts – oriented towards innovation and constant improvement of the scientific and technological level of the industry of rare earths – it can not only become a strong pillar of national development, but it will present itself as a business card showing the level of industrial technology of the RP of China, and its political credit at the international level.

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