Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Rare Earth Metals at the heart of China-US rivalry

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Rare earth elements

Mains level : US-China Rivalry

Beijing’s dominance in rare earth minerals, the key to the future of manufacturing, is a cause for concern for the West.

Answer this question from CSP 2011 in the comment box:

Q.What is the difference between a CFL and an LED lamp? 

  1. To produce light, a CFL uses mercury vapor and phosphor while an LED lamp uses semi-conductor material.
    2. The average life span of a CFL is much longer than that of an LED lamp
    3. A CFL is less energy-efficient as compared to an LED lamp.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) Only 1

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

What are Rare Earth Metals?

  • The rare earth elements (REE) are a set of seventeen metallic elements. These include the fifteen lanthanides on the periodic table plus scandium and yttrium.
  • Rare earth elements are an essential part of many high-tech devices.
  • They have a wide range of applications, especially high-tech consumer products, such as cellular telephones, computer hard drives, electric and hybrid vehicles, and flat-screen monitors and televisions.
  • Significant defense applications include electronic displays, guidance systems, lasers, and radar and sonar systems.
  • Rare earth minerals, with names like neodymium, praseodymium, and dysprosium, are crucial to the manufacture of magnets used in industries of the future, such as wind turbines and electric cars.

Curbing dependence on China

  • At a time of frequent geopolitical friction among those three powers, Washington and Brussels want to avoid this scenario.
  • They are investing in the market for 17 minerals with unique properties that today are largely extracted and refined in China.
  • The expected exponential growth in demand for minerals that are linked to clean energy is putting more pressure on US and Europe to take a closer look.
  • Amid the transition to green energy, in which rare earth minerals are sure to play a role, China’s market dominance is enough to sound an alarm in western capitals.

Why such a move?

  • In 2019, the U.S. imported 80% of its rare earth minerals from China.
  • The EU gets 98% of its supply from China.
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