Defense could be cut off from critical materials as trade war rhetoric with China grows
WASHINGTON —As the trade war with China continues to escalate, the threats from China have shifted to critical minerals imported to the U.S. from China, which have the potential to cripple military development.
China issued a reminder Wednesday that the U.S. could potentially be cut off from “rate earths” if the trade war continues. Rare earths are a group of chemically similar metallic elements. Last year China produced 78 percent of the world’s rare earths according to researchers at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
“China is far from running out of cards, and we have the will and determination to fight the U.S. to the end,” said a nationalistic Chinese newspaper, Global Times, in an editorial.
The state-run China Daily reported that after President Xi Jinping visited a rare earth-related business earlier in the month he called rare earths “an important strategic resource.”
A report from the Government Accountability Office from April 2019 looks at the dependence of the U.S. on these imported minerals. They classify minerals by net import reliance percentage, which looks at imports, exports, stock adjustments, and apparent U.S. consumption to create a percentage to show dependence.
The report found eight of the 15 minerals analyzed had a net import reliance of over 50 percent and six out of 15 minerals were categorized as critical. Of those critical minerals, four had averaged over 50 percent net import reliance. These four minerals include barite, fluorspar, palladium, and platinum.
Magnesium metal, which is one of six minerals listed by the Interior as critical to the U.S., is used in aerospace, defense, and transportation sectors. China is a top producer of magnesium metal, but the U.S. is predominately supplied by Israel and Canada.
Tungsten, which is also listed as critical, is seeing an increase in net import reliance in 2017. Tungsten, used for cutting and drilling tool, jet engines, and cellular phones, is both produced and supplied mostly to the U.S. from China.
“There are certain elements that are used in the production of specific military equipment…You need to make sure that you have either stockpiles or access to those,” said David Norquist, acting deputy secretary of defense, speaking at the Center for a New American Security on Thursday. “That’s an area where, as you look across the systems and you look at your future production, the question is, do I have those? Do I have enough of them, do I have access to them, where are they produced?
“I think that’s a proper place for the Congress to focus on, and that’s an area we’re highlighting. We look forward to working with them on how best to make sure we protect those areas.”
Jeff Green, president of J.A. Green & Company, a government relations firm based in Washington, D.C., said in a commentary: “If China’s rare earth leverage over the U.S. is one-part strategic foresight, it is two parts American strategic miscalculation and shortsightedness. Today’s U.S. defense-industrial base is reliant on a globally integrated supply chain.”
AP News contributed to this report.