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Rare earths become rare
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09:52, September 11, 2009

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China''s rising strength in rare-earth minerals supply, and its willingness to use that as "a 21st-century economic weapon," have attracted much attention in the past few weeks.

The world''s dominant-rare earth minerals producer, China produces more than 93 percent of the global supply of rare-earth metals, a group of 17 "lanthanide" elements essential in high-tech devices and green products.

China''s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is drafting a "Rare-earth Industry Development Plan 2009-2015," pressuring the rare-earth industry to consolidate to become more efficient and less polluting.

Against such background, strategic thinkers in Western countries are starting to worry that China could impose a total ban on exports of terbium, dysprosium, yttrium, thulium, and lutetium, and may restrict foreign sales of other rare-earth metals.
US technology news magazine Wired quoted an old piece of wisdom from the Strategic Air Command as saying, "When you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow."

"China''s regulation of its rare-earth metals industry does not aim at subduing any country, but protecting China''s national resources, " Zhou Shijian, senior researcher at the China-US Relations Research Center of Tsinghua University, told the Global Times. "The cheap export era should have ended. It is high time, and China has been waited for a long time."

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