China’s imposed restrictions
The precision weapons used by the U.S. military share something in common with the Toyota Prius: They both depend on components made from rare-earth metals. China is the world’s dominant rare earths producer.
The new step highlights mounting tensions between the two nations due to China’s imposed restrictions over resources that are required for the production of materials like computers, cars batteries and even missiles.Countries like Japan and the European Union will reportedly support the United States in its case. The U.S. maintains that the restrictions imposed by China, the world’s largest producer of rare earth, led to increase in prices.It was in September 2009 that China announced plans to reduce its export quota to 35,000 tons per year in 2010-2015, in a bid to conserve the resources and thereby protect the environment. Following this, at the end of 2010, China reportedly announced that the first round of export quotas in 2011 for rare earths would be 14,446 tons, which was a 35 percent decrease from the previous first round of quotas in 2010.Further export quotas were announced by the nation in 2011 along with a complete halt in production of three of its eight major rare earth mines which produces almost 40 percent of the nation’s total rare earth.However, as opposed to China’s claims of protecting their natural resources, there have also been concerns that Beijing has implemented these quotas in a bid to ensure that prices of these elements remain low within China, a move that critics say gives its manufacturers an unfair advantage, the BBC reported.
A brief description of rare earth metals is that”Rare Earth Minerals” are 17 elements located on the periodic table and essential to the production of high-tech gadgets like smart-phones, flat screen televisions, catalytic converters, low-energy light bulbs, wind turbines, and laser devices just to name a few.The name is a little deceiving because rare earth elements are not exactly “rare.” Deposits of most of the elements can be found all across the globe including the continental North America. This term is an archaic name dating back to 1787 when the elements were first discovered. But depending on how one would look at the situation, rare earth elements are very rare indeed and making headlines in world news because 97 percent of the market is controlled by China who recently announced they will cut exports by 70 percent.If these elements are common throughout the world, why does the U.S. Military pay China for imports to build missiles and radars? First of all, mining for rare earth elements has numerous negative effects on the environment and creates radioactive waste as a byproduct. In the 1980′s America led the market in rare elements until 1990 when China flooded the market with super cheap elements mined at huge environmental costs. In 2002 Mountain Pass California, the largest and last of the U.S. element mines was shut down.