June 28, 2019

This Is How to Solve America's Rare-Earths Dilemma

By Martijn Rasser and Ashley Feng

Your computer, smartphone, car, your father’s pacemaker—they all require rare-earth elements. The U.S. military’s missile guidance systems, and platforms like fighter aircraft and submarines require those same elements. This month, Beijing escalated its threat to clip global supplies of rare earths. Last week, three ministries began an unprecedented survey of China’s rare-earths production, likely to prepare for export controls. China accounted for over 70 percent of the world’s rare earths production last year and controls at least 85 percent of global processing capacity. Rare earths comprise seventeen chemical elements with unique electric and magnetic qualities vital for the electronics and clean energy industries. The United States must address its reliance on China for rare-earth elements with the goal of developing man-made substitutes.

If Beijing follows through on its threats, then the United States would face an acute national security crisis and tough economic trade-offs. Supplies may already be pinched: Chinese customs data released on last week shows in May, year-over-year exports were down 18.2 percent and that they fell 16.2 percent from April.

China has near-complete control over the U.S. rare-earths supply chain. In 2018, it supplied 80 percent of U.S. imports and provided much of the chemical intermediates and mineral concentrates needed to process what was imported from Estonia, France, and Japan. The sole operating rare-earths mine in the United States is reliant on Chinese firms for processing raw ore.

Read the full article in The National Interest.

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