China and its Rare Earths Dilemma – Part 1/2

March 20, 2012

Recently, the media released a barrage of criticism on China regarding rare-earth minerals, since China produces 97 percent of the global supply of these vital metals.

This happened when President Obama said he would pressure China through the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the media mob focused on this threat while ignoring many of the facts.

For example, on March 13, 2012, the National Journal reported, “Obama Challenges China over its Hold on Critical Technology Materials.”

However, all but forgotten is what Reuters reported in January 2011, that China “slashed its export quota by 35 percent for the first half of 2011 compared with a year earlier, saying it wanted to conserve reserves and protect the environment … new environmental standard (in China), described as ‘stringent’ by an expert who helped draft the rules, would limit the amount of permissible pollutants in each liter of waste water…”

In fact, China’s tougher environmental laws designed to clean up the air, soil and water within the next decade may be the real reason behind China cutting back production of these rare metals igniting global concern and criticism regarding supply and demand. After all, how many countries, including the Untied States, are willing to pollute their environments to produce these rare earth metals?

To understand how much pollution is caused by the production of rare earths, according to How Stuff Works.com, “In recent years, rare earth metals like lithium have been imported almost exclusively from China, which was able to lower its prices enough to monopolize the industry. One of the reasons China could sell lithium so cheaply was because it widely ignored environmental safeguards during the mining process.”

In addition, while China’s critics bash China for environmental pollution, these same voices also criticize China for attempting to do something about the pollution by cutting back production of rare-earth metals and enforcing China’s laws designed to clean up the environment, which will also cause the price of rare earth to increase and pressure other countries to produce their own rare earths.

For another example, How Stuff Works.com says, “In the Bayan Obo region of China … miners removed topsoil and extracted the gold-flecked metals using acids that entered the groundwater, destroying nearby agricultural land. Even the normally tight-lipped Chinese government admitted that rare earth mining has been abused in some places.”

Why are China’s critics and the Western media along with President Obama pressuring China to resume business as usual, which means continuing to pollute its own environment?

Follow the money/profit motive, and you may find your answer. After all, rare earth minerals are vital for electronics, clean energy technology, computers, wind turbines, electric cars and the production of America’s high-tech weapons necessary in its war against global terrorism.

Continued on March 20, 2012 in China and its Rare Earth Dilemma – Part 2

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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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