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Don't blame China for rare earth technology export ban

By Zhang Zhouxiang | | Updated: 2023-12-22 16:36
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Photo taken on Dec 23, 2021 shows China Rare Earth Group Co., Ltd in Ganzhou, East China's Jiangxi province. [Photo/Xinhua]

It didn't take long for Western media to notice China's latest ban on the export of technology to extract and separate rare earths on Thursday. However, it would be better if they told all sides of the story.

China has over 30 percent of the world's share of rare earth mineral resources – essential for the manufacture of smartphone chips, LCD screens and more – but it has been meeting over 70 percent of the world's need for it.

The United States, which is not adept at processing rare earth metals, has long been importing it from China. The reason is clear from a comment in the Harvard International Review in August 2021, which says: "For every ton of rare earth produced, the mining process yields 13kg of dust, 9,600-12,000 cubic meters of waste gas, 75 cubic meters of wastewater, and one ton of radioactive residue."

That has long been the plan of the US, or the Western world in general – to saddle third world countries with polluting industries, while they themselves enjoy their products. A good example is germanium, an essential component in the manufacture of semiconductor chips and photovoltaic batteries. China accounts for 41 percent of the world's total reserve of germanium and the US 45 percent, and yet the US imports the same from China.

The Harvard International Review also accuses China of "lax environment regulations", calling its mines "unsafe", but makes little mention of who the ultimate user of these rare earth metals is.

The mining of some rare earth metals is not that polluting, but the resources are scattered in such a manner that it needs entire industrial departments, especially the metallurgical sector, to chip in. That is why Western nations have left this dirty work on third world countries while they busied themselves with making quick money.

They did not even bother to develop infrastructure needed for digging out rare earths, separating them from other metals and using them for semiconductor and photovoltaic units.

Now, after the Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Science and Technology jointly published a new list of technologies that are banned from export on Thursday – which includes mineral separation, mining, and smelting of rare earths.

It is unfair of them to blame China. A look at the full text of the updated list will make it clear that China is not acting against anyone. The update is wholly based on new needs of technology export management. China removed the green plants growth adjuster technology from the list, while adding human cell cloning and gene modifying technology, and adjusted parameters for more technologies, all to serve the common good.

It would be much better for the West to spend precious time developing its own industry rather than blaming China.

The author is a writer with China Daily.


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