The Pentagon has been looking into US miners’ capabilities to produce rare earth metals, according to Reuters. It comes after Beijing signaled it may restrict exports of the vital materials amid the trade war with Washington.
The US military has asked miners to come up with plans to develop domestic rare earths mines and processing facilities, an exclusive report, which cites a government document, said. At the same time the Pentagon asked the miners to detail their demand for rare earths.
The Pentagon wants a quick response from the manufacturers and gave them just a few weeks, until the end of July. After a review of the responses, the agency reportedly may then offer financial assistance to support the vital industry.
The Pentagon’s urgency is understandable, due to the fact the US relies for supplies of rare earth materials on China, its trade war rival. The group of 17 rare elements is extremely important: they are used in most of high-tech devices and the military needs them to make fighter jets, precision-guided weapons and various other electronics.
The US was once one of the biggest rare earths producers, but has long lost this status; it may take years before it can dethrone China from its leading position. While China accounts for roughly 30 percent of the world’s total reserves of the materials, it produces more than 80 percent of the global supply. Some 80 percent of rare earths used in the US between 2014 and 2017 came from China.
As trade tensions have been escalating between the two largest economies, Chinese government-linked media fueled fears that Beijing may play the rare earth card to hit back against US pressure. China already reduced its exports of the minerals in May, while stocks of rare earth mining companies have been surging, driven by embargo concerns.