A new rare-earth bill was reportedly introduced in the US Senate on Friday, aiming to force defense contractors to end the use of rare earths sourced from China by 2026. It is another political move of the US against the backdrop of its attempt to contain China's growth, but it will not obstruct the development of China's rare-earth sector, Chinese experts said on Saturday.
The bill also intends to create a permanent stockpile of the strategic minerals managed by the Pentagon, according to aa Reuters exclusive report. The report adds that Pentagon still needs to purchase part of its supply from China to build that reserve though.
One of the Senators sponsoring the bill is Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican who has been sanctioned by China due to his egregious records on Hong Kong affairs.
"It is simply another political move of the US attempting to thwart China's growth," an anonymous expert told the Global Times on Saturday, noting that it is not the first time for certain US politicians to claim that the US needs to shake off dependence on China's rare-earth reserves , and whether the 2026 deadline is a practical target remains hard to say.
It is not a surprising move given Washington's series of moves aiming to set up its own rare-earth supply chain, Liu Enqiao a senior analyst at Beijing-based Anbound Consulting, told the Global Times.
The broader context behind the move is that the US, gripped by a cold war mindset, has been seeking to confront China in various fields; and relying heavily on China's supply of rare earth, a crucial raw material for high-tech products including weapons, has been a source of anxiety among hawkish anti-China politicians in Washington .
Currently the US has no capacity to process rare earth minerals, and relies on China for about 80 percent of its rare-earths imports, Reuters said.
Though it is not impossible for the US to resolve technical bottleneck, a much more important matter is that the US' moves cannot impact the development of China's rare-earth industry which has become globally competitive with its mature technologies and low costs, Liu said.
China holds 44 million tons of rare earth reserves, accounting for 36.7 percent of the global stockpile. In 2020, China produced 140,000 tons of rare earth, accounting for nearly 60 percent of global output, according to reports.
With its advantages across reserves, technologies and costs, the development of Chinese rare earth industry is expected to serve the nation's overall industrial upgrade, Liu said.
By enhancing its own core advantages, the prospect of China's rare earth industry remains promising, experts said, and it is not going to be an easy task trying to cut ties with Chinese supply.