US anxiety to push decoupling with China in mineral supply chains 'a dangerous signal'
Published: Jun 16, 2022 12:36 AM
rare earth Photo:VCG

rare earth Photo:VCG

Since NATO will adopt a new Strategic Concept for the coming decade at its summit in Madrid later this month, the US is getting increasingly anxious on the issue of critical mineral supply, especially on mineral resources that it heavily relies on China and Russia. Some voices in the US are calling for decoupling with China in relevant fields, and seeking a replacement to ensure US demand due to "the risk of war." 

Chinese analysts said it's reasonable for any country to diversify its supply chains that involve critical resources, but what's behind the US anxiety to push decoupling with China or even use NATO to force other Western countries to decouple with China in many fields of normal economic and sci-tech cooperation is a dangerous signal. Washington is using NATO to prepare for an all-out conflict with its strategic competitors, which could spark World War III.

According to the website of the US State Department on Tuesday, the US and key partner countries have announced the establishment of the Minerals Security Partnership (MSP), an ambitious new initiative to bolster critical mineral supply chains. This announcement was made in Toronto during the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention, the largest mining event in the world.

But this still can't ease US anxiety in the field. The Voice of America quoted Bradley Martin, director of the RAND National Security Supply Chain Institute, in a report published on Wednesday as saying that if the US is at war with China, the US industrial foundation will face challenges when it needs to produce enough ammunition for the military because the US is heavily relying on China on some critical mineral supplies, such as antimony.  

Defense News said in a report on June 9 that antimony is critical to the defense-industrial supply chain and is needed to produce everything from armor-piercing bullets and explosives to nuclear weapons as well as sundry other military equipment, such as night vision goggles, said Defense News.

Antimony is now on the front line of recent congressional efforts to shore up the strategic reserve of rare earth minerals, known as the national defense stockpile. The stockpile includes a multitude of other minerals critical to the defense-industrial supply chain such as titanium, tungsten, cobalt and lithium, and lawmakers expect this to become insolvent by fiscal 2025 without corrective action.

The House Armed Services Committee of the US "took its first stab at addressing China's grip on the antimony supply chain in draft legislation it released Wednesday," said Defense News.

Such a move won't have a significant impact on the Chinese industry. Yang Wenhua, an industry analyst with news portal Shanghai Metals Market, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the recent move by the US will not have a substantive impact on  China's rare-earth supply chain, given that most of the rare earth are distributed in Southeast Asian countries and China with the US taking a fairly smaller proportion in  global terms, and that the production line in China has been very mature in terms of purification, cost control and capacity management.

China has advantages in production capacity, technology, equipment, and cost in terms of upstream rare-earth resource mining, midstream smelting and separation, and downstream electrolysis technology, Yang said, which explains why many rare earth abroad are also shipped to China for processing, enrichment and purification.

Fixing ties with China and making joint efforts to strengthen cooperation is less costly than pushing decoupling, and the problem is the US is driven by a problematic strategic mentality, said analysts. 

The acts or calls for pushing decoupling with China just proved that the US is not going to fix ties with China or Russia for the sake of world peace, but will keep its hostile moves to pressure China and Russia to serve its strategic competition that aims to protect its hegemony,, said a Beijing-based expert on international security who asked for anonymity. 

At the NATO summit later this month, the US will likely seek to coordinate the actions of its North Atlantic and "Indo-Pacific" gangs and try to persuade countries to decouple their supply chains from China, said the expert.

"This proves that the US has no confidence to win the competition in a peaceful environment, so it believes that when it forces the Western world to join its decoupling from China and Russia, it could have a chance to win the competition with China," he said.

The VOA's report quoted US experts as saying that the US needs to strengthen their cooperation with Central Asian countries to reduce antimony reliance on China as countries like Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are also have significant amounts of antimony mines after China and Russia.

"China, Russia and Central Asian countries should be careful of such intention from the US," because in order to get the strategically important resources, Washington could further meddle in regional political issues to minimize the cost and maximize its gain or the harm on its competitors, as well as relevant countries in the region by creating chaos via measures like color revolutions, said Lü Xiang, an expert on US studies and research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.