Thursday, August 27, 2009

China: All Your Rare Earth Metals Belong to Us

Via (Danger Room) -

Rare earth metals are the key to 21st Century technology: Without them, we wouldn’t have smart phones, hybrid cars or precision weapons. And China, which mines most of the world’s rare earth metals, may be starting to catch on to their strategic value.

According to this
alarming story in U.K. Telegraph, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is weighing a total ban on exports of terbium, dysprosium, yttrium, thulium, and lutetium — and may restrict foreign sales of other rare earth metals. But don’t panic yet: U.S.-based Molycorp Minerals is preparing to resume mining of rare earth ore deposits at a California facility, pictured here.

Still, it’s a reminder of the role that strategic resources play, especially for the high-tech military of the United States. As I reported a few years back in the
Financial Times, the Pentagon has become increasingly concerned over Chinese demand for specialty steels and titanium, which are key to armor plating, aircraft design and other high-end weaponry. Finding new, affordable sources of military-grade titanium has been a top priority of Darpa, the Pentagon’s far-out research arm.

Of course, China is not the only country that’s figuring out how to play the mineral wealth hand in geopolitics. For several years now, Russia has used natural gas supply as a way to exert less-than-subtle pressure on its neighbors. Energy, the Kremlin found, is a
more effective instrument than an aging nuclear weapons stockpile: You can actually turn the gas taps off when you feel like punishing someone.

As an old piece of wisdom from Strategic Air Command
put it: “When you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”


The race for limited global resources is on...and its on full force.

This reminds me of a great special report in the June 2008 edition of Fast Company...

Special Report: China Storms Africa

Those on the ground in the sub-Sahara don't call it "the Great Chinese Takeout" for nothing.

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