China Builds Rare-Earth Metal Monopoly


"The world has to. . .start thinking of this group of elements as the 'technology metals' without which there will be no technology."

China has triumphed in a 15-year quest to become the "ultimate monopolist" in the supply of rare earth metals - a dominance that industry experts say could give Beijing control over the future of consumer electronics and green technology.

Industry sources believe that with China dramatically cutting its annual rare earth export quotas, the time may be rapidly approaching when it will be impossible for any company to produce a wind turbine or hybrid electric car outside the communist country.

After a long, relentless campaign of price wars and export quota reductions, more than 95% of the global supply of rare earth metals - a group of 17 "lanthanide" elements employed in hundreds of technologies ranging from mobile phones and BlackBerrys to lasers and aviation - is produced by China.

Jack Lifton, an expert on rare earths, said: "Deng Xiaoping's comment in 1997, where he said that China would be for rare earth metals what the Middle East was to oil, has become a very stark reality. The world has to wake up and start thinking of this group of elements as the 'technology metals' without which there will be no technology. China is already working out how these metals are going to give its companies a competitiveness that the rest of the world will find very difficult to match."

China's rising strength in rare earth supply and its apparent willingness to use that as "a 21st-century economic weapon" have triggered what government sources in Tokyo told The Times was an invisible tsunami of panic in Japanese industry, which in turn has called on the government to fight its corner with Beijing. Japan, which imports nearly 100% of its rare earths from China, sees the group of elements as a probable battleground for future trade wars.

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