The Chinese Xi administration may choose to leverage its state dominance of rare-earth elements to better balance the current Sino-U.S. trade war.

Dan Rochefort

2019-06-13 10:26:00 Thu ET

The Chinese Xi administration may choose to leverage its state dominance of rare-earth elements to better balance the current Sino-U.S. trade war. In recent times, President Xi visits a Jiangxi hardware factory that spins rare earth elements into permanent magnets in iPhones, electric cars, wind turbines, and military missiles. China monopolizes 80% of the strenuous extraction of 17 vital rare-earth elements for ubiquitous applications from consumer electronic technology to military defense. Although the raw ores are as common as copper and lead, rare-earth ores oxidize quickly and their extraction can cause severe pollution. With its low labor costs and lax environmental regulations, China has become the dominant force in the rare-earth market since the 1980s. With almost half of global rare-earth deposits, China produces 120,000 metric tons of rare-earth per annum, or about 80% of the global supply. Australia is the second largest supplier of only 20,000 metric tons of rare-earth per year.

The Chinese Xi administration has a strategic incentive to reduce the quota of rare-earth elements for better environmental protection. The next quota reset is due in June 2019, and this reset can indicate whether China intends to leverage its rare-earth quasi-monopoly to counteract the Trump tariff tactic.

 


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