China hints it will choke off U.S. ‘rare earths’ access. But it’s not that easy.

  • China dominates the global market for rare-earth metals and has been threatening to take them hostage in the deepening trade conflict. 
  • Just the suggestion that Beijing could starve American factories of essential materials has sent rare-earth prices soaring over the past month, with dysprosium oxide, used in lasers and nuclear-reactor control rods, up by one-third.
  • But the alarm overlooks the rise over the past decade of alternative sources of rare earths and ignores the difficulties China would face in implementing a ban, including the prospect of widespread smuggling and the likelihood of hurting countries that Chinese authorities may prefer not to alienate.
  • President Trump, fresh from an immigration dispute with Mexico pivoted Monday to his stalled China trade talks. In a CNBC interview, the president who is expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping later this month in Japan said their “differences can be worked out very easily.”
  • But Xi shows no sign of caving and may use rare earths as a bargaining chip.

 (Source: The Washington Post)