Report to US Congress raises concerns over China’s rare earth control

Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden met this week in San Francisco to discuss the two countries’ relationship. (Image courtesy of President Joe Biden | Twitter.)

The US remains highly reliant on Chinese production of critical minerals, both through direct sourcing from China and indirectly due to the predominance of Chinese materials in global supply chains, according to a recent report to Congress.

According to the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission report, China could potentially disrupt the global rare earth oxide supply by cutting off 40–50%, impacting suppliers of advanced components used in US defense systems.

China is the US’ primary source of rare earth elements, along with ten other critical minerals.

Source: US Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries, January 2023.

On August 1, 2023, China implemented export controls on gallium and germanium, as well as dozens of related products made with those metals. Last month, China announced it will require export permits for some graphite products in another bid to control critical mineral supply in response to challenges over its global manufacturing dominance.

The Pentagon holds a strategic stockpile for germanium but currently has no inventory reserves for gallium.

Over 95% of the US gallium consumption is in the form of gallium arsenide wafers, a type of semiconductor that outperforms more prevalent silicon wafers for sensitive electronic equipment, such as radar systems.

“Estimates vary on how long inventories and reserves could last if China completely cuts off supplies of gallium and germanium. In such a scenario, global inventories of the materials may run out after a number of months,” said the report.

In 2010, China reportedly restricted exports of rare earth elements to Japan for two months following a territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands, although the restrictions were never formally announced.

As a result, Japan reduced its reliance on Chinese rare earths by diversifying suppliers and investing in non-Chinese operations internationally.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden met this week in San Francisco to discuss the two countries’ relationship.

“The stakes of the competition simply cannot be overstated,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said addressing the Chinese leader visit, CNN reported.

“Strategic competition with China is going to determine the course of the next century of American history. And yet, the Biden administration has too often met this historic moment with weakness and naïveté. Time and time again, it has sacrificed competition on the altar of green climate policy,” he said.