Power over the earth: The impact of China using rare earths to hit back at US

A road on the outskirts of Baotou city in Inner Mongolia, north-west China, where dozens of factories processing rare earths, iron and coal operate. China produced 120,000 tonnes of rare earth metals last year. Protesters in Kuala Lumpur last month u
A road on the outskirts of Baotou city in Inner Mongolia, north-west China, where dozens of factories processing rare earths, iron and coal operate. China produced 120,000 tonnes of rare earth metals last year.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
A road on the outskirts of Baotou city in Inner Mongolia, north-west China, where dozens of factories processing rare earths, iron and coal operate. China produced 120,000 tonnes of rare earth metals last year. Protesters in Kuala Lumpur last month u
Protesters in Kuala Lumpur last month urging the Malaysian government to suspend a rare earth plant in the country operated by Australia's Lynas Corp. Residents want Lynas to remove years of accumulated waste.PHOTO: REUTERS

With trade tensions mounting between China and the United States, Beijing will be hunting for Washington's Achilles' heel.

It may come in the form of rare earths - key metals needed in the manufacture of products ranging from smartphones and cameras to wind turbines and military gear.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2019, with the headline 'Power over the earth'. Print Edition | Subscribe