As the trade war with China slowly rages on, a threat from the communist country just exposed a major gap in our own country’s defense grid.
Beijing is now threatening to involve the rare earth metals in its trade war with the United States.
Rare earth metals are a collection of elements with specialized applications that make modern technology function.
If China follows through with its threat, the country will have secured an immediate short-term win because of its clear advantage in both reserves and production.
According to Bloomberg, China produces 120,000 metric tons of rare earth metals and holds reserves totaling 44,000,000 tons.
The U.S. produces a mere 15,000 tons, and holds less than two million tons in reserve.
Although most modern appliances, electronics and technology depend on the metals to function properly, the consumer economy is not the only thing in danger if the rare earth supply line is compromised.
The defense sector would be without necessary components to make the array of war-fighting tools our men and women use daily. With no rare earth elements, America’s military industry would be unable to produce missile parts, communication equipment and specialized optics.
Fighting a protracted war with no access to rare earth metals would likely be devastating.
Without our technological edge in battle, more American lives could be at stake in an all-out war. Chinese industry, on the other hand, would have near-unlimited access to the world’s largest supply of rare earth metals.
China appears to know how serious rare earth metals are. A Chinese Communist Party paper defiantly announced the decision by writing “China will not be bullied into submission.”
China’s threat may be a blessing in disguise, however.
Our defense leaders are waking up to China’s threatening dominance of essential resources.
According to Reuters, the Pentagon is looking at ways to reduce our dependence on China for the crucial metals.
Although we should always edge toward free trade, trading economic blows with China shows us the downfalls of not being self-sufficient.
The U.S. should always be able to maintain its own industries despite international scarcities and trade disputes.
Nobody in his or her right mind would ever think to outsource our entire steel industry to foreign countries. However, this is what has happened with rare earth element production. If steel is a vital economic resource, rare earth elements should be considered just as crucial.
When we lose control of our own resources and production in favor of cheap prices, we also lose control of our future.
There is hope for the U.S. rare earth market. An official at the Mountain Pass Materials mine told CNBC that he estimates self-sufficiency in a year, if the federal government helps.
So far, it looks as if nobody is “winning” this trade war, but if we’re careful, we can avoid becoming the biggest loser.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.