The Pentagon has engaged in talks with several rare earth miners around the world, including Malawi’s Mkango Resources Ltd and Burundi’s Rainbow Rare Earth Ltd, as part of plans to reduce reliance on Chinese supplies of crucial minerals, a department official was cited as saying by Reuters.
“We are looking for any source of supply outside China. We want diversity. We don’t want a single-source producer”, said Jason Nie, a material engineer with the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), on the margins of the Argus US Specialty Metals conference in Chicago.
According to US Geological Survey data, China accounts for roughly 80 percent of US imports of rare earths, which are critical to the production of cutting-edge weapons and high-tech products.
In a separate development, the US Department of Commerce unveiled a 50-page report earlier this week outlining a host of measures to reduce “strategic vulnerabilities” caused by its dependence on imports, including rare earths.
“These critical minerals are often overlooked but modern life without them would be impossible. Through the recommendations detailed in this report, the federal government will take unprecedented action to ensure that the United States will not be cut off from these vital materials”, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Tuesday.
While China has yet to confirm or deny its reported plans to restrict rare earth exports to the US, a number of local media outlets have suggested that Beijing could hit back at US tariffs by using strategic minerals as a trump card.
Beijing, for its part, has warned that it will impose reciprocal tariffs on $60 billion worth of American products.
The two sides have been mired in a trade dispute since June 2018 when President Donald Trump announced 25 percent tariffs on up to $50 billion worth of Chinese goods in order to fix what he claimed was Beijing’s “unfair trade practices”. China, as well, struck back with a series of tit-for-tat measures.