Keeping the Rare Earths in China

October 1, 2010

At one time, it must have seemed like a good idea to allow China to process 90% of the earth’s supply for rare earth oxides/metals.

After all, rare earths are dangerous and costly to extract and the extraction methods used in China are highly toxic. The Economist reports that there have been horror stories about poisoned water supplies.

The thinking around the world must have been, “Better that China wrecks its environment than us.”

The Other Side of the Story

These rare earth-based metals are important in manufacturing sophisticated products such as flat-screen monitors, hybrid and electric-car batteries, wind turbines, aerospace alloys and high-tech weapons, which the U.S. needs to fight wars.

Then China became angry when Japan arrested a Chinese fishing boat captain whose trawler collided with a Japanese patrol boat in contested waters.

What China did to force the Japanese to do what China wanted caused the rest of the world to sit up.

China shut off the supply of rare earths to Japan.

A report from Reuters by Julie Gordon says this caused companies that depend on rare earths to struggle to secure a supply. It also woke up the rest of the world—a lesson learned that you don’t keep all the eggs in a basket that you don’t own.

See Hitting Endless Home Runs


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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