Report From China: Rare Earth Is A “Card” But Not A “King”

Country Insight: China’s Resolve To Balance Competitive Might, The Environment and Its People Is Admirable

Plus: China Realizes The USA Has A Rare Earth Trove: Why Hasn’t The Industry Developed?

Cheng Wei Jia Source: Web of Science www.sciencenet.cn Published: 2018/9/25 12:49:07

Recently, Sino-US trade frictions have continued to escalate. It is reported that rare earth is a powerful “secret weapon” of China. If China bans the export of rare earth to the United States, it will achieve “a fatal blow” in the trade war.

As a “secret weapon”, how powerful is the rare earth? How should China develop and utilize this important strategic resource? In the Xiangshan Science Conference with the theme of “emerging key minerals”, experts have said that they should not over-hype rare earth resources. Only by rational exploitation and making the best use of them can they really play the rare card.

Rare earth is called “industrial gold” and “vitamin”. It is widely used and is an indispensable raw material for many high-tech equipment production. It is regarded as an important strategic resource of the country. The use of rare earths in many new materials can greatly improve the quality and performance of products.

According to statistics, China, the United States, Russia, Canada, Australia, Brazil and other countries with the largest land area in the world have rich rare earth reserves. China’s rare earth resources are not only rich in reserves, but also have advantages that rare earth minerals and elements are complete, grades and distribution of mines are reasonable, and other countries cannot match.

Since the 1990s, the large-scale exploitation and cheap export of rare earths in China can be said to “nurturing” the rapid development of high-tech in the world in the past 20 years, but this has caused China to pay a heavy price, not only the loss of resources, but also Serious damage to the environment.

China’s rare earth reserves once accounted for nearly 80% of the world’s total reserves, but after years of disorderly mining, it is said that only 36% are now.

Fan Hongrui, a researcher at the Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that China’s heavy rare earth resources mainly come from the South China ion-adsorbed rare earth deposits, but some of the backward rare earth mining, smelting and separation processes and technologies have also seriously damaged the surface vegetation and caused soil erosion. And environmental problems such as soil pollution and acidification. Continued uncontrolled mining and exporting is bound to smash a “good card”.

Historically, the continuous use of global mineral resources at low prices has always been the basic orientation of resource strategies in developed countries, and the rise of big countries is bound to accompany the evolution of global mineral resources supply and demand patterns and the restructuring of mineral products trade rules.

Don’t look at the US’s dependence on imported rare earths. In fact, the United States is the world’s third largest rare earth resource country after China and Russia. In order to protect these key resources, its largest rare earth mine, the Mountain Pass Mine in California, was sealed and stopped in 2001. Instead, it imported a large amount of relatively rare rare earth products from China and continuously increased its inventory. Japan, one of the largest consumers of rare earths, has long purchased rare earths from China at a low price, and the amount purchased is quite large. It is said that such a large amount of rare earths will be hoarded as a strategic reserve by Japan.

“Rare earth is Zhang ‘brand’, but not ‘king’.” Fan Hongrui analyzed that the United States can open the mining of the Mountain Pass rare earth mine in a short period of time. A lobbying company in Washington once said that the US Department of Defense may have initially formed a “non-Chinese” supply chain in terms of the high-performance rare earth magnets required for weapon systems.

At present, the scale of China’s rare earth industry is still relatively small, with an annual trading volume of more than 100,000 tons (including exports). Whether it is production, storage, trading, domestic use or exporting abroad, its quantity and price can not withstand hype, excessive Hype is a huge disaster and crisis for China’s current rare earth industry.

Experts believe that China’s rare earth resources “reasonable mining, make the best use of it”, the rare earth industry “self-strength” is fundamental.

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