Export restrictions are seen as a wake-up call to establish their own value chains.
The ban on the export of a range of technologies for mining and processing rare earths, announced on Thursday, has attracted a great deal of media attention. Although this does not threaten exports of the raw materials or components made from them, it may have damaged efforts to establish their value chains in Western countries. China has been refining its own know-how for decades and has access to a steadily growing number of skilled workers: according to a study by the U.S. government (PDF), 39 universities in China award degrees in mineral processing and metallurgy.
The lack of knowledge and the failure to build up its own capacities for extracting and processing raw materials unsurprisingly prompted the state-affiliated China Daily to publish a commentary that is not stingy with criticism – and schadenfreude. According to the newspaper, the West has repeatedly criticized China’s “lax environmental regulations” but is the leading buyer of Chinese products. However, it is not so much the mining that is problematic, but rather the low concentrations of the raw material that require an elaborate infrastructure.
In the end, however, China Daily conciliates and points out that the new measures are not directed against any country. This would also be supported because other processes have been removed from the list of affected technologies, affecting different sectors. For example, the South China Morning Post (paywall) mentions manufacturing technologies for silicon solar cells.
Although the new restrictions mainly only supplement existing regulations, they are seen as a wake-up call in Western countries. According to Don Swartz, CEO of American Rare Earths, a company dedicated to this goal in the U.S., China wants to assert its market dominance. The company is now in a race to build up its own rare earth industry; the manager told Reuters news agency.
Photo: TRADIUM GmbH