What Rare Earths Tell Us about China's Competitive Strategy

Ian Easton
Reuters

Ian Easton

Security, Asia

Little has been done to ensure America is able to supply its own rare earth mineral needs. This leaves the nation, and especially the military, in a precarious situation.

What Rare Earths Tell Us about China's Competitive Strategy

The recent debate over whether or not China will carry through on its threats to stop exporting rare earth minerals to the United States is an important one. It raises deeply unsettling questions about the strength of America's defense industrial supply chain. But Beijing’s monopolization of the global rare earths industry gives it far more than a card to play in an escalating trade war. The game is far bigger and the stakes higher than even many national-security experts seem to realize.

In the minds of Chinese strategists, this issue is ultimately about which nation, China or America, wins the central struggle of the twenty-first century, the race for world leadership. Obviously, they intend to win and to win big.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) considers rare earths to be essential for growing China’s power and eclipsing the United States. Official Chinese propaganda outlets recently called rare earths “strategic resources” for the “six new technology groups” that Beijing sees as engines of China’s future strength. These include information technology, medical technology, new materials, new energy sources, space technology, and advanced shipbuilding. According to the report, a major breakthrough in the application of rare earths is being made every five years, and one out of every six new inventions involves these minerals.

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