October 22, 2020
Last year, China scared markets when it threatened to halt the export of rare earth metals to the U.S. For decades, China has invested heavily in rare earth industries (Deng Xiaoping compared them to oil) and it is now home to 90% of global production. Rare earth metals are used in everything from chips to batteries to military and green technologies. As such, these raw materials are the material backbone of our digital technology, powering data centers, electric cars and solar panels.
Given the fact that nascent exponential technologies such as AI, 5G, and quantum computing will determine who achieves digital hegemony, these materials will become important vectors of geopolitical interest. Last month, China again stockpiled huge quantities of the strategic resources, citing the coronavirus crisis as the cause of the dwindling exports, since an outright export ban would mean an act of economic war. In response, both the U.S. and Europe are trying to secure their supply, through investments as well as new exploration. In the foreseeable future, these materials will be in the crosshairs of a great power competition.