News / Asia

China Says Rare Earths Not a Political Bargaining Chip

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao delivers a speech during the EU-China Summit meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels, 6 Oct 2010
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao delivers a speech during the EU-China Summit meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels, 6 Oct 2010

Multimedia

Audio
  • VOA's Kate Woodsome interviews Christine Parthemore, Center for a New American Security

  • VOA's Kate Woodsome interview with US Geological Survey specialist Dan Cordier

China is defending its management of rare earths, saying it will control the export of the crucial elements, but will not use them as a political bargaining chip. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao addressed his country's resource policy in the wake of a diplomatic dispute with Japan during which rare earths became a key pressure point.

In a speech to a business forum in Brussels this week, Mr. Wen dismissed suggestions that Beijing is reducing its shipments of rare earth elements for political reasons. He said China was acting to ensure that supplies do not run out.

"What we are pursuing is the sustainable development of rare earths, which is necessary to meet national needs -- and also the needs of the world," the state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Mr. Wen as saying during a speech he gave at the China-EU Business Summit in Brussels on Wednesday.

VOA's Kate Woodsome interviews Christine Parthemore, Center for a New American Security:

A rare earth monopoly

China supplies 95 percent of the world's rare earths exports, which have unique magnetic qualities used in computer hard-drives, hybrid cars, iPods, wind turbines and defense systems like laser missiles.

Fears that China might use rare earths as a political weapon arose last month during a dispute over Japan's arrest of a Chinese fishing captain near some disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Japanese traders said rare earth shipments from China had been halted, but China denied it had stopped exporting the elements.

Business diplomacy

Rare earths are becoming increasingly important in international diplomacy because there are no substitutes for the elements, says Christine Parthemore of the Center for New America in Washington, D.C.

"When tensions are tight between countries and when there's a really high demand for them within the exporting country, there are really clear political reasons to reduce exports or to withhold export shipments of these and to keep them for your domestic use," Parthemore says. "And what's driving China's actions, in part, is that their demand for these things is going through the roof as they move into producing and manufacturing wind turbines and solar panels and clean technology in their own country."

The United States was once the world's leading supplier of rare earths but the nation's only mine, located in California, closed in the 1980s. Dan Cordier, a rare earths specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey, says China edged in on the market when it realized rare earths were a byproduct of a major iron mine located in Inner Mongolia.

Kate Woodsome interviews US Geological Survey specialist, Dan Cordier:

Price wars

"They were able to low-ball on pricing for the rest of the world because they didn't need to make profit on the rare earths coming out of that mine, which were a byproduct," Cordier says. "And it sort of brought the rest of the rare earth industry and the world at the production level for making Rare Earth oxides virtually impractical to make money on."

That may be changing, according to Cordier.  In July, China reduced the maximum amount of rare earths it could export by 72 percent, driving prices up.

"Where the invisible hand of economics comes in and free market works its way even into the realms of China, the overall expansion of that particular high technology of rare earths will succeed to invite competition and work for everybody's benefit," Cordier says.

Japan already is seeking options to end its dependency on China's exports, and is sending a delegation to Mongolia this month to investigate rare earth mining opportunities there. And the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation last month supporting research into reviving the U.S. rare earths industry. Still, experts say that could take at least 15 years for the American effort to get up and running.

National security

Parthemore, of the Center of a New American Security, says that could be a concern for the United States, which relies on rare earths for its defense systems and burgeoning clean technology industry, both important to the national and economic security. She says the U.S. government is facing the added challenge of not fully knowing how much it relies on rare earths from China.

"With the privatization and globalization of the defense supply lines, this kind of information got out of hand and we didn't have a good grasp on it," Parthemore says. "It's a big problem, but it's one that Congress has ordered the Department of Defense to get on top of."

Parthemore says the Defense Department is expected to conduct a top to bottom review to determine how they actually use rare earths.

You May Like

Will Cuba Follow the Southeast Asia Model?

Decision to restore ties between US and Cuba has some debating whether it will lead to enhancement or regression of democracy for Communist island nation More

Kenyan Designer Finds Her Niche in Fashion Industry

‘Made in China’ fabrics underlie her success More

Report: CIA, Israel's Mossad Killed Senior Hezbollah Commander

The Washington Post story says Imad Mughniyah was killed instantly by a bomb "triggered remotely" from Tel Aviv by Mossad agents More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Lateri
X
Deborah Block
January 31, 2015 12:12 AM
Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid