China’s metal export curbs not ‘retaliation, but in line with global norm:’ analysts
Published: Jan 22, 2024 11:02 PM

An engineer analyzes chips at a chip factory in Nantong, East China's Jiangsu Province in February. Photo: VCG

An engineer analyzes chips at a chip factory in Nantong, East China's Jiangsu Province in February. Photo: VCG

China's gallium exports fell 66 percent year-on-year to $8.47 million last year, while those of germanium edged down 8.2 percent to $48.42 million, data from Chinese customs showed, a trend that industry observers said reflected multiple factors - including market demand adjustment, soaring material prices as well as certain time needed for application reviews after metal export controls took effect.

Analysts stressed that China's export curbs on the two niche materials, which are key to making semiconductors, communications and defense equipment and other high-tech products, are in line with international practices and do not target any specific country, strongly pushing back against what some media touted as a result of "Beijing retaliating against tech curbs by Washington and its allies." 

Such accusations are an attempt by some Western media outlets to justify the  stepped-up US tech crackdown against China, analysts noted, stressing that Beijing's move is purely aimed at protecting China's national security and interests, whereas Washington's practice is out of a sinister mindset to preserve Western hegemony and instigate geopolitical confrontation. 

China's gallium exports to the US reached around $350,000 in 2023, slightly down from $440,000 in 2022, data from the General Administration of Customs (GAC) showed. Germanium shipments to the US stood at $6.98 million last year, compared with $4.6 million in 2022. 

"Factoring in a price spike, it could be deduced that the shipment volume of the two metals to the US was only subject to small fluctuations in 2023," Wu Chenhui, an independent industry analyst who closely follows the industry, told the Global Times on Monday. 

Also, a gain in germanium exports to the US last year provided fresh evidence that Chinese authorities were not "weaponizing the curbs" to target any individual country, observers said.

China's export controls on gallium- and germanium-related items took effect on August 1, 2023. The Ministry of Commerce said in September that a number of exporters had obtained export licenses, and the ministry would continue to examine other export applications in accordance with required procedures and make licensing decisions.

"It is an international norm that every country shall establish a licensing mechanism for key minerals and materials. In accordance with international practice, China has the right to protect its legitimate interests," Ma Jihua, a veteran industry analyst, told the Global Times on Monday.

Ma explained that before the controls took effect, enterprises had been in a rush to stockpile. After the controls took effect, relevant reviewing processes by Chinese authorities took a certain amount of time, which has led to a delay in shipments that weighed on full-year exports.

The pattern shift of China's gallium and germanium exports was also reflective of dynamic changes in market demand, Wu added. 

According to data from the GAC, China exported zero gallium- and germanium-related items in August, while exports surged in July, before the export controls took effect.

Observers also rebutted certain media hype that the controls on gallium and germanium exports could be expanded to other key materials, such as rare earths. 

"China has refrained from imposing export controls on some key materials, while the US has long abused the tools to maintain its hegemonic status at the cost of damaging the stability of global supply chains, so it reflexively thought that China would 'take revenge' in a similar vein," Ma said.

Mao Ning, a spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at a press briefing in July that it is an international common practice for a country to implement export controls on relevant items in accordance with the law, and it does not target any specific country.

Mao also noted that China has always implemented fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory export control measures.

China is the largest producer of gallium and germanium. Its gallium output accounts for more than 90 percent of the global total and germanium production accounts for more than 60 percent of the world's total, official data showed.