Rare earths and the new battleground for geo-economic supremacy

Image via Wikimedia Commons

In this article first published in the online magazine, Analyzing War, Dr Jojo Nem Singh argues that the rare earths sector may well become the new theatre of war not only between the US and China, but that its restrictions equally threaten the economic interests of Japan and the European Union.

REEs consist of seventeen chemically similar metals—with special properties of ferromagnetism, superconductivity, and luminescence—and are classified either as light or heavy REEs.

Often coined as 'vitamins of the modern world', REEs are embedded in applications such as face-centred catalysts for efficient oil production, hybrid electric vehicles, nickel metal hydride batteries, computer hard drives, glass additives, polishing powders, direct-drive high-power wind generators, speakers, nuclear fuels, radar, most weapons systems and over a thousand other uses.

Adapted from Smith Stegen (2015,2)

Global dominance

Until the mid-1980s, the US was the main global supplier of REEs. The low prices and loose environmental regulations in China brought this dominance to an end and made China the dominant single supplier.

Since then, a concerted WTO case against China’s export restriction policy by Japan and the US further stress the growing uneasiness of advanced industrial countries over their dependence for Chinese production of REEs.

Read the full article on the on the Analyzing War website - Rare Earths and the New Battleground for Geo-economic Supremacy

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About Analyzing War

This article was originally published on Analyzing War, an online magazine platform that is run by a group of non-partisan individuals who care deeply about advancing an informed understanding of Indo-Pacific security and order.