Rare Earth Geopolitics: A case of Economic Statecraft?

Obscure though they have been in the past, rare earths represent some of the most precious enabling elements for the operation of high tech, renewables, and defense technologies, everything from smartphones and medical technologies to wind turbines, energy efficient lighting, smart bombs, and submarines. While they are not particularly “rare” in availability, they are difficult and expensive to mine. Yet, China accounts for more than an estimated 93 percent of the rare earth industry since the 1990s. In 2010, the elements captured both international headlines and the attention of policymakers and industry globally when a geopolitical incident between China and Japan revealed how the world had grown almost exclusively dependent on China for rare earth mining, processing, production, and export. Prices skyrocketed, international tensions ensued, industrial nations scrambled for alternatives and ways to innovate out of dependence. As soon as the market corrected itself, however, the world returned to business as usual. In an increasingly globalized world, how might world powers respond to growing resource competition? How does the use of economic statecraft impact power relations in a time of renewed global power competition and trade disputes? 

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