June 17, 2019

Are Rare Earths the Next Pawn in the U.S.-China Trade War?

Featuring Martijn Rasser

Source: Wired

Journalist Klint Finley

Since the Trump administration blocked sales by US companies to Chinese telecom giant Huawei last month, the world has waited for Beijing to retaliate.

Previously, the trade conflict between the US and China centered on escalating tariffs. While tariffs make things more expensive; they don't cut off supplies entirely. But when the US Department of Commerce effectively forbade US companies from providing US-made technologies, including chips and crucial software like the Google Play app store, to Huawei, it was a major blow to one of China's highest-profile companies.

One possible arena for retaliation, in the minds of analysts: rare earth elements. China is the leading producer and processor of rare earths, with about 37 percent of the world's reserves, according to a US Geological Survey report. The substances are used in a wide range of products including smartphones, airplanes, and medical devices, as well as military gear such as stealth technologies, radar, and night vision goggles. Neodymium, for example, is used to make magnets found in smartphone speakers and haptic feedback devices, while terbium is used to make solid state hard drives.

Read the full article and more in Wired.

Authors

  • Martijn Rasser

    Senior Fellow, Technology and National Security Program

    Martijn Rasser is a Senior Fellow in the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Prior to joining CNAS, Martijn served as a ...