China, the source of high-tech products – for now

July 31, 2011

The June 2011 National Geographic Magazine (NGM) is sitting on my desk reminding me to write a post about THE SECRET (Chinese) INGREDIENTS OF (almost) EVERYTHING.

In fact, today, China supplies 97% of the world’s rare earth needs.

NGM’s Folger tells us, “Although China currently monopolizes rare earth mining, other countries have deposits too. China has 48 percent of the world’s reserves; the United States has 13 percent. Russia, Australia, and Canada have substantial deposits as well. Until the 1980s, the United States led the world in rare earth production …” Then China entered the competition and soon dominated the global market.

How important are these rare earth minerals to our modern high-tech world?

The U.S. military depends on these minerals for night vision goggles used in combat, and to help control Predator drones, and Tomahawk cruise missiles.

MRI medical scans need a rare earth mineral to work while hybrid cars would not exist without them and wind turbines used to generate an alternative source of energy requires hundreds of pounds of one rare earth element while compact fluorescent light bulbs use another rare earth to light up.  Even our smart phones, flat-screen televisions and sunglasses (to protect our eyes from UV light) use rare earths.

Folger reveals that there is currently a shortage of rare earths with global demand about 60,000 tons. However, China will only be exporting 24,000 tons this year, since its growing middle class demands the same high-tech toys that many Americans and Europeans take for granted.

To have a better idea of how this demand of rare earths will grow in China, the McKinsey Global Institute predicts China’s middle class will reach about 612 million Chinese by 2025 to become the world’s largest population of consumers. This will change ‘made in China‘ to ‘sold in China‘ possibly creating markets for luxury goods made in the USA.

Does this mean that soon Chinese may be complaining about US workers stealing jobs from China?

Meanwhile, other nations (such as the US) are rushing to develop rare earth metals until the US is capable of producing enough to supply the demand in America for high-tech gadgets.

Discover more from Keeping the Rare Earths in China


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 that Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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