Rare Earths: A Crisis in the Making
In 2010, rare earths were thrust into geopolitical prominence overnight as a result of a territorial incident between Japan and China. China’s “unacknowledged” and short-lived rare earths embargo against Japan, coupled with China’s decision to sharply reduce export quotas of these materials to all industrial nations, brought home the potential dangers of its near-monopoly position on their production and export. Prices skyrocketed and the international outcry intensified because the seventeen rare-earth elements are critical inputs for high-tech, defense, and renewable energy sources. Given their centrality, the rare-earth crisis is not merely a trade dispute. It raises questions about China’s use of economic statecraft and the impacts of growing worldwide resource competition while pointing to the complexities facing policymakers as they develop strategies and responses in an increasingly globalized world.
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