China's threat to restrict rare agricultural exports to the US could have devastating results, a senior Republican legislator said.
"It goes into our rockets, our space program, satellite programs," says Ted Yoho, R-Fla., A senior member of the State Department overseeing US diplomatic efforts, Washington Examiner ]. "All those things depend on rare earth metals, and it can certainly cripple a nation."
These comments, from the Supreme Republican of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Asia and the Pacific, show the threat has struck a nerve for American leaders.
"I don't think it's a driver, but I think it's a strong check," Yoho said.
The maneuver has been long in production. The Chinese government identified the "enormous strategic importance" of these resources in 1[ads1]992 and then followed a near-monopoly on the international market. And in 2010, China held rare earths from Japan amid a dispute over fishing rights in attacked waters of the East China Sea.
"If anyone wants to use the products of our rare soil gate to try to counteract China's development, the people of the southern Jiangxi Communist revolutionary base would not be happy, and the people of China will not be happy" a spokesman from the national development – and the Reform Commission, an economic planning agency, said Tuesday.
Chinese President Xi Jinping signaled a return to the rare earth's tactics last week by visiting a mining site just days after President Trump signed an executive order that allowed the federal government to carry a leading Chinese telecommunications company from it US market. Likewise, Xi used his trip last year to celebrate "Long March", a year-long strategic retreat that rescued the Chinese communists from early defeat in a civil war that eventually took today's regime to power.
Chinese officials could see the rare earths as an advantage over the trade conflict.
"This is no longer just a trade war," Dean Cheng, an expert in China's military doctrine and scientific infrastructure at the Heritage Foundation, told Washington Examiner . "The Chinese are using rather scary, rather attentive terms that should have some concerns … this is a much bigger problem."
U.S. officials have expected rare earths to be the start of what the Pentagon considered "a significant and increasing risk of material supply considered strategically and critically for US national security." But it is less of a danger to the US in 2019 than it would be because China's use of tactics against Japan kicked off an outbreak of mining activity around the world.
"Unlike 2010, we do not need to go find new material, we just have to reopen mines and processing plants," Cheng said. "And this time, if the Chinese actually look to cut out global rare earth supplies, then they come to Lose the Market [share]. "
Most of that development took place outside the United States, which still has only one rare earth in operation. A bipartisan group of lawmakers attempted to ease the production of rare earths in the United States, but then President Barack Obama's administration strongly opposed the bill due to environmental concerns. Rare soils, as Cheng noted, "are not so rare" all over the world, they are only difficult to find in large quantities, often along with elements such as uranium.
"You end up with a lot of radioactive waste that needs to be handled safely," said the Heritage Foundation rare earth mining ministry. "So if you're willing to put on pollution, other places can produce more rare earths."
Yoho believes that national security issues should trump environmental concerns in the wake of the latest threats from China. "If people can't see a problem here, you know, they live in a fantasy land," he said. "We must have a critical mineral layer in this country for national security."
This reaction gives a glimpse of how competition between the United States and China can play across a number of industries. "In the longer term, this will actually create some interesting issues for China," Cheng said. "You make two supply chains."