And how Washington could get it back.
At the end of September, U.S. President Donald Trump released an executive order amounting to an all-hands-on-deck call to end China’s monopoly on rare earths, the metals and alloys used in many high-tech devices. It was high time; China’s dominance of these resources has resulted in the transfer of entire U.S. industries (medical imaging, for example), technologies, and jobs to China while also compromising the U.S. defense industry’s supply chain.
China didn’t always dominate the Rare Earth (RE) industry. In fact, up until 1980, 99 percent of the world’s heavy REs were a byproduct of U.S. mining operations for titanium, zircon, and phosphate. In fact, it was only because of changes in U.S. regulations, the voluntary transfer of expertise and intellectual property, and the absence of an industrial policy that China has been able to corner this market.
The story of how the United States and others surrendered the RE industry to China may suggest the ways in which the country might reestablish self-reliance.