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US senators introduce bill to end China's 'chokehold' on America's rare earth supplies

WION logo WION 15-01-2022 (Wion Web Team)
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Two senators in the United States have proposed a law aiming to end China's alleged "chokehold" on rare-earth metal supplies.

The bill, sponsored by Senators Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, and Mark Kelly, an Arizona Democrat, is the latest in a string of US legislation seeking to thwart China's near control over the sector.

According to Cotton, "The Chinese Communist Party has a chokehold on global rare-earth element supplies, which are used in everything from batteries to fighter jets."

"Ending America's dependence on the CCP for extraction and processing of these elements is critical to winning the strategic competition against China and protecting our national security," he said.

The senator, who sits on the Senate's Armed Forces and Intelligence committees, described China's evolution into the global rare earths leader as "simply a policy choice that the United States made," adding that he hoped fresh policies would loosen Beijing's grip.

Also read | Why are 'rare earth elements' China's secret weapon?

As per the United States Geological Survey (USGS), eighty percent of the United States' rare-earth imports in 2019 were from China.

The bill aims to "protect America from the threat of rare-earth element supply disruptions, encourage domestic production of those elements, and reduce our reliance on China", the statement said. 

"Our bipartisan bill will strengthen America's position as a global leader in technology by reducing our country's reliance on adversaries like China for rare earth elements," Kelly said in the statement. 

Also read | Australia, US and Canada launch interactive map for critical minerals

"Well placed policies such as this one get us closer to the target of onshoring this critical supply chain," said Marty Weems, North American president of Australia-based American Rare Earths Ltd, which is developing three US rare earth projects.

MP Materials Corp , which operates the only US rare earths mine and relies on Chinese processors, said it appreciates "ongoing efforts by the Department of Defense and broader US government to secure the domestic rare earth supply chain and promote free and fair competition."

With 44 million tons of reserves, China possesses some of the largest deposits of rare-earth metals, according to the USGS, and benefits from looser environmental regulations than many of its competitors.

Beijing has used these deposits to exert political pressure. In 2010, China halted rare-earth exports to Japan in retaliation over a territorial dispute. 

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