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Government Science

China Considering Cuts In Rare-Earth Metal Exports 456

SillySnake sends in a report from the Telegraph on draft plans in China to restrict exports of rare earths. "Beijing is drawing up plans to prohibit or restrict exports of rare earth metals that are produced only in China and play a vital role in cutting edge technology, from hybrid cars and catalytic converters, to superconductors, and precision-guided weapons. A draft report by China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has called for a total ban on foreign shipments of terbium, dysprosium, yttrium, thulium, and lutetium. Other metals such as neodymium, europium, cerium, and lanthanum will be restricted to a combined export quota of 35,000 tonnes a year, far below global needs."

China Considering Cuts In Rare-Earth Metal Exports

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  • The new "oil" (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MasterOfGoingFaster ( 922862 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @08:21AM (#29364121) Homepage

    Just what the world economy needs. A single-country "cartel" that will cause prices to greatly rise. This should be interesting to watch.

    I guess rare-earth metals are the new "oil".

  • Re:Update (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fastest fascist ( 1086001 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @08:31AM (#29364211)
    China doesn't really need WMDs or stolen designs to hold off an invasion. Conventional weapons combined with their sheer manpower would make it a suicidal proposal to attack them on their own turf. It's not exactly Iraq.
  • by raddan ( 519638 ) * on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @08:34AM (#29364237)
    On the other hand, cost drives innovation. As the article stated, it may take several years to bring the old rare-earth mines back into operation. In that time, we either pay more, or use our engineering degrees and come up with workarounds. I have a feeling that the latter may frequently be the case. For instance, if rare-earths are required to manufacture hard disk drives, SSDs (which I assume do not require these metals since they require no magnets) will probably become favorable.

    China's move may affect regular people but I suspect not. This is probably more important to you if you're in manufacturing or trade.
  • Re:Update (Score:1, Interesting)

    by SerpentMage ( 13390 ) <[ ] ['' in gap]> on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @08:41AM (#29364291)

    Actually people completely underestimate this...

    I always make the argument, what if China decided one day to the next that 300 million (about a quarter of their country) decided to go for a walk and moved to the US via Alaska. Do you really think anybody could stop 300 million people? Answer NO! So in other words the US could double in population and there is not a DAMM thing the US could do about it!

    In other words you could never defeat China! Face those facts and life gets simpler.

  • by valinor89 ( 1564455 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @08:43AM (#29364307)
    I think that if they do so they won't mind if we ( as in the other western countries) put prohibitions and restrictions of our own in other product importations. We could revive our cloth, electrodomestic, chemical, (whatever) old industries. It might be a bit expensive at first (mostly for those multinationals ) but then we can be sure of better occupation rates. I's a shame that this is only wishfull thinking...
  • by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @08:45AM (#29364323) Homepage Journal
    and finally call China out on it's myriad of violations? The US and Europe seem content over bickering about Airbus and Boeing when in actuality, those two companies' violation(if any) are a real drop in the bucket compared to China's insanely flagrant violations. However, the US is an addict hooked on selling China our debt, instead of oh I don't know, not invading a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 we decided it was a much better idea to sell ourselves lock stock and barrel to the Chinese. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
  • by Ritz_Just_Ritz ( 883997 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @08:56AM (#29364423)

    Fat chance. The US and Western Europe are indeed addicted to the unsustainably cheap supply of Chinese credit and cheap labor. We effectively wink at them gobbling up global resources so they can be churned through a cheap labor pool and nonexistent health/safety regimens in order to satiate our desire for a high standard of living at minimal cost. China never had any real intention to abide by the WTO's rules and viewed membership as a national pride issue. Don't hold your breath waiting for China to alter its behavior even if the WTO adds some stank to their toothless regulations.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @09:03AM (#29364505)

    Yes, please, let's unlearn everything from the Great Depression [] in the middle of a recession. What could possibly go wrong?

  • Re:Update (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Big Hairy Ian ( 1155547 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @09:14AM (#29364661)

    Then there is the cyber angle. I suspect America could be pwned quite quick.

    Bearing in mind just about every router/switch in the US Gubment has "Made in China" on them do you honestly think there are no back doors?

  • by ZekoMal ( 1404259 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @09:46AM (#29365093)
    [citation please]

    Your post argues that everyone, including the oil companies, are lying to us. That we have plenty of oil that we're just not using because of hippies.

  • Re:Woo-hoo - (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Amiga Trombone ( 592952 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @09:58AM (#29365253)

    Maybe this would be a good time to re-arm Japan.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @10:04AM (#29365325)

    Just because somehting was up and running once doesn't mean it is just sitting there waiting to turn on when we want ti back. Steel isn't a rare earth metal, but Geneva Steel was shut down in Utah and sold to China. We can't just turn it back on, we gave them our business and Geneva couldn't match their prices. Now instead of giving China our business, we sold them the business too.

    Now for some irony, before Geneva steel went away they needed to buy new bricks to line their furnace. Only two places in the world made the brick they needed China, and Lehi Block who was just miles up the road from them. Geneva Steel bought brick from China and then complained when they shut down that too many people bought cheap steel from China.

  • Re:The new "oil" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by linzeal ( 197905 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @10:14AM (#29365465) Homepage Journal

    Ok, mister xenophobe.

    Why shouldn't China be entitled to use its own resources to build out its own economy? China has a horrible standard of living for the amount of production present in the country and the pollution that goes along with it. I hope they use it all for domestic green energy projects, because frankly they need it more than we do where going "green" is more a luxury than anything. Building green jobs here with our own rare earths is entirely possible considering we have far more known rare earth ore deposits than they do. So what exactly are you complaining about, that we can't rape their country for all the resources? They have a billion people and it is highly unlikely they will ever have the same standard of living as the US in our lifetime but the very least we could do is not bitch and moan every time China does something nice for its own citizens.

    You know, I would rather deport people like you than hard working or studying immigrants. Why don't you all go down to the south of the US and secede, this time the rest of us northern folk won't stop you. Well considering there is hardly any natural resources in the south besides coal and oil you can all have your coal power plants and big trucks and you won't need to worry about new-fangled technologies irritating you. You can all live gloriously embittered lives scapegoating the rest of the world for your problems as you walk around yelling in the swamps, marshes and hurricane-prone areas of the gulf states like some sort of swamp curmudgeon. You could yourself America for Americans only or something. Build yourself a Lou Dobbsian wall around your entire country to keep Yankees and Mexicans out. Give all those janitorial, landscaping and construction jobs back to Americans because we all know how much Americans love doing menial labor for low wages without health insurance. Right, mister xenophobe?

  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @10:46AM (#29365933) Journal
    China is now refusing to export a number of rare earth elements. These are ones that are currently expensive to get elsewhere. In addition, they HAVE put caps on other ones. But that is not the real problem.

    The real issue is that they are running around BUYING UP all the mines in the free world. Basically, they are trying hard to make a monopoly of this. The place to watch is Australia, Canada, and America. America has the largest active RE mines and China made a bid for these last year(US gov said no). They currently are trying to buy 2 start-up mines in Australia. Finally, IIRC, they DID buy a Canadian producer (though I do not recall where mines were located).

    The other day I commented about how we should be mining space, to which a fool responded that it was not practical. At that time, I pointed out that long-term countries would try to limit access to various elements/minerals. Sure enough, that day was when I found out about China thinking of limiting REM. The problem is that when items are taken off the market, it means that you limit countries capabilities. That tends to make wars happen. Imagine if another GWB gets into office in say about 2 years and REM is expensive to the west. GWB would go to war over this because CHina is building up their military and will want to stop it before they get too strong. Keep in mind that China is positioning themselves for a first strike, not for a defensive position. If we want to avoid stupid wars, we MUST get into space and locate new elements/minerals esp. REMs. They are the foundation of militaries as well as electrical systems. All of our future motors and many of the advanced electronic boards depend on these.

    China is not about playing fair. They are very much in a cold war with the west, whether we like it or now. If we want to prevent a hot war, we will have to prevent them from limiting our access to resources (either by war or by finding new cheap mines) and will have to bring back manufacturing.
  • Africa (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Shag ( 3737 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @11:25AM (#29366503)

    Another big source of uncommon metals is sub-Saharan Africa - for example, something like 80% of the world's supply of either Cobalt or Coltan comes from mines in the Congo. And China has been making big inroads into that region too, in terms of international aid and trade.

    There are times that being an officially godless commie state comes in handy, really. US shows up and says "we'll give you aid money as long as you don't promote safe sex, and oh, sorry, our business community is a little too nervous to really trade with you." China shows up and just says "look, we want to do business; you have resources we need."

    Unsurprisingly, African governments are talking more to China these days.

  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @11:38AM (#29366655) Journal
    is EXACTLY what has gotten us to where we are. China is in a cold war with us and it needs to be addressed.

    I TRUST that you are kidding about tariffs, yes? They do not work. The issue is that China was given MFN and into WTO by promising to open their borders and to free their money. All good. Problem is that China has not LIVED up to their word. They still have barriers up and most of all, the money is not traded freely. It is in a "basket" that is controlled by their gov. In addition, they allow pollution (co2 and other ) to be emitted in large amounts to give an even larger boost to low costs. Our energy bill is going to be a disaster and will encourage China,India,Mexico, etc to pollute more to take more jobs.

    So, here is my solution:
    1. Pollution is a serious issue, but so are economic issues. Kill the new energy bill before it gets implemented. Instead put in a TRUE cap/tax. We need to put in a cap on our CO2, and then put in a tax on ALL GOODS (local and imported). It should be based on the pollution that comes from the areas that the good was made from. That means that each country has a sliding scale based on CO2, and ideally the pollutions such as SO2, Mercury, etc. To implement this all at once would hurt the world. Instead, create a max of say 2-3% and than slowly raise that several percent each year. That gives each nation the opportunity to change (including America).
    2. Drop the MFN for all nations. Nearly all the countries that are part of that were for political reasons only. That needs to be stopped. Instead, create a new MFN and set up the conditions in which ALL NATIONS that meet it would get it. It should be a limited set of conditions.
      • freely traded money (EUdollar is freely traded; Yuens -> dollar is fixed).
      • Free trade. Not sure exactly HOW free, but most if not all goods should be allowed to move back and forth. Exceptions should be made for certain goods. For example, NAFTA was overall good. It has helped Mexico and Canada.
      • A minimum standard of an environmental condition. That would prevent countries from subsidizing the goods by degrading the world. Personally, I would prefer Canada as minimum. MUCH cleaner than most. We would probably just use ours though.
      • A minimum wage and labor condition.
      • A minimum education condition (such as requiring all children in school up to a certain age), etc.

      If we do the above, then there will be no real need for free trade acts. What is really needed is to make certain that we avoid exceptions. There are a number of countries that we allow to have one-way trade with us and do little to nothing to help those countries.

    If the above is done by the west, it would bring up conditions all over the world. EU has talked about doing Free Trade agreements with Latin America, but they want to use it to push better conditions for the citizens. I have to say that it is not a bad idea, but I think the above is even better.

  • Revenge? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by WinPimp2K ( 301497 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @11:46AM (#29366753)

    Not really, nor is it a manufactured shortage, but it is another shot in their ongoing half-assed trade war. I say half-assed becasue while there is a definite nationalistic bent to this, China is also trying to develop it's own industries.

    So, China started out dumping rare earths on the global market (find your own darn citations you needy buggers), but as they see their own internal demand ramping up, they are going to divert more of their production to their own use. Of course some of that internal use will be for exportable products. Remember that they are making big investments in battery technology. I expect they plan on having an electric car that will need the rare earths currently going into Prius motors. Expect that car to be a big export item. And it will be aimed directly at hybrids and electrics and priced low enough that their competitors will have to sell at a loss to compete on price - at least until China needs them for internal consumption.

    Before China started dumping (look up your own darn citations) rare earths on the world market, the US was the major producer worldwide. The US firms that used to supply the vast majority of our needs (from our own resources) have shut down most of their production. It is very hard to compete with the combination of slave labor and non-existent safety and environmental regulations. It was a series of environmental violations given as the reason for the shutdown of one of the biggest US mines, but it may have really been related to a ability to see the handwriting on the wall regarding Chinese imports as well.

  • by nedlohs ( 1335013 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @12:05PM (#29366985)

    What else are they supposed to do with all the foreign reserves they have?

    Wait for them to become worthless? Or use them now before they do to buy useful productive assets.

  • Planned Obsolescence (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MindKata ( 957167 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @12:21PM (#29367203) Journal
    "I miss the days of over-engineered machines built of inferior materials." ... "Funny thing is, they still work. Like new."

    Sadly thank the Gillette razor manufacturer for creating the tread with their idea of the disposable blades, just over a hundred years ago. Since then ever more products have been designed to wear out and fail. Its the whole concept of planned obsolescence which is a big marketing tactic. (So much for conserving and using earth resources responsibly. These companies are far more (self-)interested in profit). Its disturbing how much thought goes into planned obsolescence, e.g. []

    Here's an eye opening discussion about the idea of "Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence" back in 1932. []

    Its a tactical move by companies. No wonder we have such problems now with everyone consuming earth's resources after decades of companies behaving like this.

    But I don't know how it'll ever be stopped. For decades everyone has been led to believe in the idea of getting things ever cheaper, but that quietly assumes the product will fail sooner and so need replacing sooner and so in the long run, it'll end up working out more expensive. But then everyone has been also led to believe almost everything is out of fashion and so needs to be replaced regularly. While thats true of some things (especially technology due to improvements) it doesn't apply to everything we buy.

    Another problem is it costs more to produce something well rather than cheaply. So the cheap companies win and the well produced product companies end up going out of business. So we are rushing towards a world that produces ever more cheap rubbish that keeps needing to be thrown away and each time its thrown away someone profits from replacing what was thrown away. So we have ever growing rubbish mountains all around the world, which is also causing ever more environmental damage. :(
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @05:32PM (#29372043)

    Its the whole concept of planned obsolescence which is a big marketing tactic. (So much for conserving and using earth resources responsibly. These companies are far more (self-)interested in profit). blah blah blah companies evil ... capitalism ... satan ... more expensive ... evil ... markets wrong ... evil

    By the way, just out of plain curiosity ... who made those companies. Who liked planned obsolence more ? Certainly there were reusable blades available, yet that company went broke.

    Surely it's a government conspiracy, probably Stalin mated with Satan to produce a horrible goat that crapped out gilette after eating a particularly mean rat that was once fucked by hitler (movie at 8), right ?

    Well, no, in reality WE decided we like cheap, zero maintenance, short-lived stuff better than quality 5 minutes work every day blades.

    The fault lies with us, not with gilette, not with capitalism, not with greed. The problem is our lazyness. Nothing more.

    Scrubbing the cooking plate for 35 minutes every day without any soap whatsoever is more efficient and so much better for the environment ... and besides ... what are women for, right ?.

    Only an idiot that has never given 10 minutes thought to how people actually lived back then could make a post like that. It sounds somewhat reasonable on the surface, yet it's utter bullshit. Gilette's throwaway blades beat the crap out of keeping your own razor sharp in everything. Ease of use, likelihood of injury (know any guy that has not cut himself with a reusable blade every month ?) and, well frankly, even in price* (not that I don't respect people who do it anyway, in fact I've done so myself for 2 years, but ... let's face it, it's not easier than buying gilette blades every 2 weeks or so).

    * yes for the first year or-so. I realize that.

  • by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @06:35PM (#29372799)

    "I have wood working machines from the early 1900's that are more durable, accurate, and mammoth than the cheap plastic shit you buy today."

    Woodworking was much more important in the early 1900s, labor was cheap, and people who purchased machinery were usually mechanically literate, professional users. They expected commercial quality gear when they bought machines, while the home hobbyist carpenter could make do with hand tools instead. Mass production has made inexpensive, capable, but non-commercial-quality gear available to the consumer.

    The materials, btw, were NOT necessarily inferior. Ever wonder why the metal on many old tools and on farm equipment doesn't rust much but develops a nice patina instead? Different metallurgy. Those nice old castings were over-engineered because welding was not as highly developed as it is today and sand casting was less hassle.

  • Re:Update (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mgblst ( 80109 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @08:07PM (#29373549) Homepage

    No, this is not true. I don't think you realise how powerful the US military is. They spend an order of magnitude every year more than all other countries combined. They have the most advanced equipment by far, that they wont even sell to their allies like UK and Australia.

    They don't have this stuff for Iraq or Afghanistan. They have it for Russia (less so now), and for China.

    Most of the stuff they pay for are really advanced war equipment, for fighting a major player.

    They would crush China. There is no two ways about it. They plan for it everyday, China is the big threat out there today. Not because they are aggressive, they are actually very peaceful. But they are the challenge out there.

    The US military is built around taking down China, in the hopes that they never have to.

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"