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The Coming Battle Over Rare Earths

An excavator loads a truck with rare earth elements at a port in Lianyungang, China

An excavator loads a truck with rare earth elements at a port in Lianyungang, China, March 10, 2013 (Imaginechina photo by Wang Chun via AP).

Depending on who you ask, there are either good reasons to panic about China one day weaponizing its dominance of the market for rare earth elements, or to think that the risk is overblown. Judging from President Joe Biden’s executive order last week calling for a major 100-day review of U.S. strategic supply chains, including rare earths, in order to spur domestic production, Washington is starting to take that risk more seriously than ever. That could be a very good thing, not only for the United States but for the world.

There is no debating that the coming shift to electric vehicles and greater reliance on renewable energy will drive up competition over rare earths, which are crucial to manufacturing everything from mobile phones to batteries for electric cars and wind turbines. The only real question is how the rest of the world outside China, and especially the U.S., is going to cope with the coming competition over rare earths. …

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