Tuesday 18th June 2019

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Posts tagged ‘china’

Got the minerals?

March 4th, 2019

A new book says self-imposed obstacles block U.S. self-sufficiency

by Greg Klein

“The Middle East has oil, China has rare earths.”

Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 implied threat became all too real eight years later in the Senkaku aftermath, when RE dependency put Japan and the West at China’s mercy. But just as the United States overcame the 1973 OPEC embargo to become the world’s leading oil producer, that country can overcome its growing reliance on dodgy sources of mineral production and processing. So say authors Ned Mamula and Ann Bridges in Groundbreaking! America’s New Quest for Mineral Independence.

Their country’s problem isn’t geology but policies, the book argues. Repeatedly pointing to Canada and Australia as role models, the authors say their own country’s mining potential can restore mining self-sufficiency, or at least minimize a crippling dependency.

A new book says self-imposed obstacles block U.S. self-sufficiency

Indeed, the mighty nation has a mighty problem with minerals: Imports supply many critical minerals and metals in their entirety, with heavy reliance on Russia and especially China, “countries we consider at best our competitors, and at worst our adversaries.”

Rare earths stand out as the “poster child for U.S. critical mineral vulnerability.” As the authors note, REs remain “essential for military and civilian use, for the production of high-performance permanent magnets, GPS guidance systems, satellite imaging and night vision equipment, cellphones, iPads, flat screens, MRIs and electric toothbrushes, sunglasses, and a myriad of other technology products. Since they offer that extra boost to so many new technologies, these rare earth metals rival energy in importance to our 21st century lifestyle.”

Industrial countries not only surrendered rare earths mining and processing to China, but gave up technological secrets too. That happened when China forced RE-dependent manufacturers to move their operations to China. After Apple transplanted some of its manufacturing to that country, China copied and reproduced the company’s products, at times outselling the iPhone with knock-offs.

A new book says self-imposed obstacles block U.S. self-sufficiency

Other intellectual property faces threats. “U.S. companies—Intematix, GE (Healthcare/MRI Division), Ford (Starter Motor Division), and Battery 1,2,3—have all added manufacturing capacity in China, and so has Japan’s Showa Denko, Santoku, and scores of other global electronics companies.”

RE dominance has also allowed China to lead the world in technology for electric vehicles, renewable energy and next-generation nuclear power. And America relies on its rival for defence: “Most of the U.S.’ advanced weapon systems procurement is 100% dependent on China for advanced metallurgical materials.”

Foreign dependency includes tantalum, “critical to the economy and national defense,” gallium, cobalt, uranium and the list goes on.

According to a just-published report from the U.S. Geological Survey, “in 2018, imports made up more than half of U.S apparent consumption for 48 non-fuel mineral commodities, and the U.S. was 100% net import-reliant for 18 of those.

“For 2018, critical minerals comprised 14 of the 18 mineral commodities with 100% net import reliance and 15 additional critical mineral commodities had a net import reliance greater than 50% of apparent consumption. The largest number of non-fuel mineral commodities were supplied to the U.S. from China, followed by Canada.”

The takeover of former TSX listing Uranium One by Russia’s state-owned Rosatom brings threats worse than most observers realized, the authors say. The acquisition granted the Russian government membership in trade organizations and therefore valuable intel formerly available only through espionage. Uranium One also gives Russia the ability to curtail future American uranium production and use its influence on Kazakhstan, the world’s top producer, to flood the U.S. with cheaper, subsidized supply. That could put both U.S. production and processing out of business in a tactic reminiscent of China’s RE machinations.

China’s communist government uses a ‘debt trap’ model of economic development and finance which proffers substantial financing to developing countries in exchange for an encumbrance on their minerals resources and access to markets. This predatory model has been particularly effective in countries characterized by weak rule of law and authoritarian regimes.—Ned Mamula
and Ann Bridges

The Chinese “are now masters at securing and controlling core natural resources globally, especially minerals.” The country uses long-term contracts, equity investments and joint ventures, as well as the “debt trap” that provides “substantial financing to developing countries in exchange for an encumbrance on their minerals resources and access to markets. This predatory model has been particularly effective in countries characterized by weak rule of law and authoritarian regimes.”

The U.S., meanwhile, suffers not only from naivete and short-term thinking, but from self-induced challenges. The authors devote an entire chapter to Alaska’s Pebble project, maybe the world’s largest undeveloped copper-gold-molybdenum deposit. After more than two decades and over $150 million in spending, “Pebble is still more about politics than geology, much less mining the minerals known to exist there.”

The story stands out as “the classic cautionary tale in U.S. history of how a powerful federal regulatory agency can go rogue and impose its will on an unsuspecting permit applicant.”

Suggestions to alleviate these ills include streamlining the permitting process, among other recommendations to open up domestic production and re-build supply chains. One of the authors’ more interesting ideas concerns teaming up with environmental activists to promote ethical green supply chains that would shut out conflict minerals.

The book’s marred by repetition, sloppy English and some bold-faced typographical shouting. It’s also cluttered with a few questionable information sources and excerpts from a novel that would have been better left unwritten. The portrayal of Canada as a role model, moreover, might induce bitter laughter from this side of the border. But Groundbreaking offers a vital message to general readers. In doing so, it could reinforce a growing awareness in the U.S. about the need to minimize foreign dependency.

Read more about U.S. efforts to secure critical minerals here and here.

The World Gold Council bases its 2019 optimism partly on progress in China and India

February 25th, 2019

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World Gold Council hedges its forecasts for 2019

January 11th, 2019

by Greg Klein | January 11, 2019

Both financial market instability and structural economic improvements bode well for its favourite metal, the World Gold Council reports. The WGC’s Outlook 2019 attributes an optimistic price outlook to an interplay of those two factors along with U.S. interest rates and the dollar.

Bullion and gold-backed ETFs would benefit as savings, investments, jewelry and technology drive up demand. The prognosis also sees central bank demand continuing to rise. Last year’s sovereign purchases reached the highest level since 2015 “as a wider set of countries added gold to their foreign reserves for diversification and safety.”

Accentuating gold’s safe haven status would be the financial market uncertainty apparent in higher volatility, European instability, protectionist policies and “an increased likelihood of a global recession,” the report states.

“Stubbornly low” bond yields offer poor protection against uncertainty, the WGC notes. Meanwhile Europe’s economy lags behind the U.S. as the continent faces Brexit, social unrest in France and separatism in Spain, among other challenges. Increasing protectionism and trade war rhetoric threaten economies with inflation and restrictions to “the flow of capital, goods and labour.”

Comprising 70% of consumer gold demand, emerging markets remain “very relevant” to gold’s long-term performance. China’s Belt and Road projects boost regional economic and infrastructure development. India’s economic modernization should continue last year’s 7.5% growth into 2019, “outpacing most global economies and showing resilience to geopolitical uncertainty.

“Given its unequivocal link to wealth and economic expansion, we believe gold is well poised to benefit from these initiatives. We also believe that gold jewellery demand will strengthen in 2019 if sentiment is positive, while increase marginally should uncertainty remain.”

To the allure of gold, the WGC attributes its returns on investment and its liquidity. Additionally, the metal provides an almost unique hedge that often correlates with the market in good times but detaches itself during negative periods, the council states.

While a stronger U.S. economy and dollar could stall gold, the last two months have shown a correction in equities along with weaknesses in other assets, said Joseph Cavatoni, WGC managing director for the U.S. and ETFs. With political uncertainty also troubling investors “we’re going to see gold start to have a much more relevant role to play in people’s investment portfolios.”

Not without skin in the game itself, the WGC represents some of the world’s top gold miners.

Download Outlook 2019: Global economic trends and their impact on gold.

Jair Bolsonaro, now president of Brazil, criticizes the sale of niobium resources to China

November 27th, 2018

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The Sydney Morning Herald reports incidents of Chinese arrogance towards Australian politicians

November 23rd, 2018

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Commerce Resources president Chris Grove comments on U.S. efforts to reduce its reliance on a global rival

November 16th, 2018

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Brazilian front-runner makes niobium nationalism an election issue

October 25th, 2018

by Greg Klein | October 25, 2018

Whether he’s just another politician on the wrong side of the culture wars or a dangerous demagogue as portrayed by those claiming the correct side, Jair Bolsonaro’s considered the top contender in Brazil’s October 28 presidential vote. One of his less controversial policies involves resource nationalism, specifically regarding niobium.

Brazilian front-runner makes niobium nationalism an election issue

Brandishing a chunk of the stuff in a 2016 YouTube presentation,
Jair Bolsonaro calls on Brazil to enhance a vertically integrated
niobium supply chain to support economic independence.

Bolsonaro calls for Brazil, by far the world’s top producer of the critical metal, to enhance a vertically integrated supply chain for maximum economic gain, according to Reuters. He also opposes a Chinese company mining his country’s reserves, the news agency adds.

Last year Brazil provided 89% of world niobium supply, with Canada ranking second at less than 10%, U.S. Geological Survey data shows. Used in steels and superalloys, niobium’s a vital element to jet engine components, rocket sub-assemblies, and heat-resisting and combustion equipment, the USGS adds. Niobium comprises one of 35 critical elements in an American list drafted last February and confirmed in May.

Most Brazilian supply comes from the Araxa mine complex owned by Companhia Brasileira de Metalurgia e Mineração. But CBMM’s near-monopoly diminished in 2016, when China Molybdenum Co Ltd got Brazil’s Boa Vista niobium complex in a US$1.5-billion purchase from Anglo American. That made China Molybdenum the world’s second-biggest niobium producer, thanks to Brazilian resources and much to Bolsonaro’s ire.

In Reuters’ account of a TV interview last August, he said, “It’s something only we have, we should invest in technology and research to use this mineral. Instead we sell and deliver the mine to them.”

The Chinese are not buying in Brazil. They are buying Brazil.—Jair Bolsonaro

As the Middle Kingdom acquires energy infrastructure as well as resources across Brazil, the South China Morning Post quotes a common Bolsonaro refrain: “The Chinese are not buying in Brazil. They are buying Brazil.”

Chinese diplomats have twice met with Bolsonaro’s aides, hoping to smooth relations with the likely leader, the SCMP states. Requests to meet the candidate himself have so far been spurned.

An open letter signed by Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein and several others says Bolsonaro “threatens the world, not just Brazil’s fledgling democracy.”

But the country might face other threats as well. Government data released in August shows 63,880 murders last year, a 3% increase over 2016 and a rate of 175 murders per day.

Visual Capitalist and Benchmark Mineral Intelligence: Battery megafactory forecast for 400% increase in capacity by 2028

October 22nd, 2018

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist

Battery megafactory forecast 400% increase in capacity to 1 TWh by 2028

The Chart of the Week is a Friday feature from Visual Capitalist.

 

When ground broke on the massive Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada in 2014, the world marveled at the project’s audacity, size and scope.

At the time, it was touted that the cutting-edge facility would be the largest building in the world by footprint, and that the Gigafactory would single-handedly be capable of doubling the world’s lithium-ion battery production capacity.

What many did not realize, however, is that although as ambitious and as forward-looking as the project sounded, the Gigafactory was just the start of a trend towards scale in the battery-making space. While Tesla’s facility was the most publicized, it would ultimately be one of many massive factories in the global pipeline.

Mastering scale

Today’s data comes to us from Benchmark Mineral Intelligence and it forecasts that we will see a 399% increase in lithium-ion battery production capacity over the next decade—enough to pass the impressive 1 TWh milestone.

Here is a more detailed projection of how things will shape up in the coming decade:

Region Capacity (GWh, 2018) Capacity (GWh, 2023) Capacity (GWh, 2028)
Grand total 220.5 658 1,102.5
China 134.5 405 631
Europe 19.6 93.5 207
North America 20.9 81 148
Other 0 0 5
Asia (excl China) 45.5 78.5 111.5

In just a decade, lithium-ion battery megafactories around the world will have a combined production capacity equivalent to 22 Tesla Gigafactories!

The majority of this capacity will be located in China, which is projected to have 57% of the global total.

The top plants globally

According to Benchmark, the top 10 megafactories will be combining for 299 GWh of capacity in 2023, which will be equal to almost half of the global production total.

Here are the top 10 plants, sorted by projected capacity:

Rank Megafactory Owner Country Forecasted capacity by 2023 (GWh)
#1 CATL Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd China 50
#2 Tesla Gigafactory 1 Tesla Inc/Panasonic Corp (25%) US 50
#3 Nanjing LG Chem New Energy Battery Co. Ltd. LG Chem China 35
#4 Nanjing LG Chem New Energy Battery Co. Ltd. Plant 2 LG Chem China 28
#5 Samsung SDI Xian Samsung SDI China 25
#6 Funeng Technology Funeng Technology (Ganzhou) China 25
#7 BYD , Qinghai BYD Co Ltd China 24
#8 LG Chem Wroclaw Energy Sp. z o.o. LG Chem Poland 22
#9 Samsung SDI Korea Samsung SDI Korea 20
#10 Lishen TianJin Lishen Battery Joint-Stock Co. Ltd. China 20

Of the top 10 megafactory plants in 2023, the majority will be located in China—meanwhile the U.S. (Tesla Gigafactory), South Korea (Samsung) and Poland (LG Chem) will be home to the rest.

Reaching economies of scale in lithium-ion battery production will be a significant step in decreasing the overall cost of electric vehicles, which are expected to surpass traditional vehicles in market share by 2038.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

The new colonialists

October 19th, 2018

China’s overseas expansion raises concerns of influence and arrogance

by Greg Klein

The country boosts its domestic industries through state-sanctioned dumping along with lax environmental, health and safety standards. Aggressive overseas expansion provides money and infrastructure to struggling nations in return for resources and acquiescence. Espionage, counterfeit exports, currency manipulation, economic warfare, intellectual theft—“particularly the systematic theft of U.S. weapons systems”—that’s all part of China’s goal to gain “veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic and security decisions,” according to a recent U.S. study ordered by President Donald Trump.

So it seems a bit anti-climactic to accuse the Red Dragon of arrogance.

But could that become China’s undoing, especially when the arrogance reflects racism? Examples from Kenya reveal a steady stream of racially charged incidents. Among the most recent was ongoing racist abuse from the manager of a Chinese-owned assembly plant. A Chinese company running a much bigger Kenyan operation, the Standard Gauge Railway, faces accusations of practising racial preferences and segregation. Further accounts relay instances of demeaning treatment, even assaults, on African workers in their own countries by Chinese bosses.

China’s overseas expansion brings allegations of influence and arrogance

That might be more a side effect than part of the official agenda, which is alarming in itself. According to Globe and Mail Africa correspondent Geoffrey York, Chinese influence “is sharply increasing in African media, academia, politics and diplomacy.” Earlier this month he reported that a South African newspaper chain backed by Chinese investors fired a columnist who denounced their country’s treatment of Muslims.

“In Zambia, heavily dependent on Chinese loans, a prominent Kenyan scholar was prevented from entering the country to deliver a speech critical of China. In Namibia, a Chinese diplomat publicly advised the country’s president to use pro-China wording in a coming speech. And a scholar at a South African university was told that he would not receive a visa to enter China until his classroom lectures contain more praise for Beijing.”

York pointed to “the huge number of African leaders who flock to the summit of China’s main African organization, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC),” an annual conference featuring announcements of Chinese financial aid. At last month’s event, President Xi Jinping promised grants, loans and investments totalling $60 billion, equaling an amount pledged three years earlier.

China’s massive African infrastructure projects, built by Chinese companies that often enjoy Chinese government financial support, include railways and hydro-electric power. But Chinese interests also get their hands on Africa’s mineral resources as well as oil and gas reserves, not to mention new markets for Chinese exports. Chinese loans have been criticized for overwhelming African countries with debt.

In the values that it promotes, in the manner that it operates and in the impact that it has on African countries, FOCAC refutes the view that a new colonialism is taking hold in Africa, as our detractors would have us believe.—South African
President Cyril Ramaphosa

Then there’s the political influence. The spectacle of African leaders singing China’s praises has provoked cynicism that South African President and FOCAC co-chairperson Cyril Ramaphosa tried to dispel: “In the values that it promotes, in the manner that it operates and in the impact that it has on African countries, FOCAC refutes the view that a new colonialism is taking hold in Africa, as our detractors would have us believe.”

Those remarks might alternately challenge or support allegations of sycophancy. But York notes China’s success in convincing African countries to drop their support for Taiwan, promoting Chinese language and culture, increasing media ownership with attendant interference, and—laughably, considering the communist state’s journalistic standards—providing “‘training’ for 1,000 African media professionals annually.”

Such are the challenges faced by the developing world. And others too.

From Australia come additional examples. “The hubris of the Chinese Communist Party has reached a great and giddy high,” the Sidney Morning Herald declared last month. International editor Peter Hartcher recounted a meeting between Chinese finance minister Lou Jiwei and Australian treasurer Joe Hockey in which Lou lit a cigarette without asking permission, then badgered the Aussie with big talk that included offers to take over Rio Tinto, buy 15% of the top 200 ASX-listed companies or grab multi-billion-dollar positions in Australian banks.

Hartcher mentioned another incident a few years ago, when “a Chinese minister walked into the Parliament House office of an Australian Liberal Party minister in the course of a negotiation.

“The visitor sat on the sofa, reclined with his hands locked behind his head, and put his feet up on the coffee table. He crossed his ankles casually, the soles of his shoes pointed towards his Australian host. A mere detail, yes, but a telling one. It infuriated the Australian, who was still steaming as he recounted the story years later.”

Then there’s the threats. In a Sydney meeting last year, Hartcher writes, Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten and two of his key people heard Chinese Communist Party official Meng Jianzhu demand their party support an extradition treaty. They objected, largely due to China’s death penalty.

“To get his way, Meng threatened to mobilize the Chinese diaspora living in Australia to vote against the Labor party. The Labor leaders were unbowed and unimpressed. ‘We cannot let these bastards push us around,’ one later remarked to a colleague. Labor continued to oppose the extradition treaty.”

Score one for Down Under determination. Hartcher warns that China could meet its comeuppance once the country’s economic growth stops, possibly in a decade or so. Still, that gives the Middle Kingdom considerable time to expand its influence in acquiescent countries, which need not be limited to the developing world.

Like Canada, for example. Do our politicians match Australian Labor’s resolve? Do our media match the Sidney Morning Herald’s candour? Or would the example of HD Mining International, which planned to staff underground operations at a British Columbia mine exclusively with Chinese workers, typify Canada’s response?

Depending on the enemy

October 10th, 2018

The U.S. calls for new supply strategies to meet economic and defence risks

by Greg Klein

The goal might be summed up by a new slogan: Make America Self-Reliant Again. Or, with a tad less concision: Let’s Stop Relying on an Economic Rival that’s a Potential Military Threat for the Stuff We Need to Compete with an Economic Rival that’s a Potential Military Threat.

A newly released study from the U.S. Secretary of Defense illustrates that absurd dilemma. The dependency runs the gamut from sourcing raw materials to refining them, manufacturing key components, developing R&D, training workers, even setting prices. As the report says, “The central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by what the National Security Strategy classifies as revisionist powers. It is increasingly clear that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model—gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions.”

The U.S. calls for new supply chain strategies to meet economic and defence risks

But Russia merits little mention in the 146-page document. China comes up again and again as the pre-eminent economic and military threat with a long-term hegemonic strategy.

That strategy’s been very successful, leaving the U.S. sorely unprepared for the resulting risks. Ordered by President Donald Trump in July 2017, the report urges a government-wide program to address the entire range of supply chain challenges.

The 2010 Senkaku incident, dramatic as it was, can be seen as a mere microcosm of a much bigger threat.

“China’s domination of the rare earth element market illustrates the potentially dangerous interaction between Chinese economic aggression guided by its strategic industrial policies and vulnerabilities and gaps in America’s manufacturing and defense industrial base,” the report warns. “China has strategically flooded the global market with rare earths at subsidized prices, driven out competitors, and deterred new market entrants. When China needs to flex its soft power muscles by embargoing rare earths, it does not hesitate, as Japan learned in a 2010 maritime dispute.”

It was a lesson learned by other countries too. The report describes rare earths as “critical elements used across many of the major weapons systems the U.S. relies on for national security, including lasers, radar, sonar, night vision systems, missile guidance, jet engines, and even alloys for armored vehicles.”

Rare earths figure prominently in the U.S. list of 35 critical minerals drafted last February and confirmed in May. American dependency was further highlighted when the country dropped rare earths from a revised list of tariffs on Chinese imports announced in September.

China’s soft power hardball has targeted other American allies as well, waging “aggressive economic warfare” against South Korea after the country installed an American air defence system. Other examples of “economic coercion” include “a ban on Philippine bananas over territorial disputes in the South China Sea; the aforementioned restriction of rare earth exports to Japan following the Senkaku Islands dispute in 2010; persistent economic intimidation against Taiwan; and the recent ceding of a Sri Lankan port.”

China can play nice too. But at a price. The country invests heavily in developing countries, often building infrastructure “in exchange for an encumbrance on their natural resources and access to their markets.”

As for Chinese electronics exports, they “lack the level of scrutiny placed on U.S. manufacturers, driving lower yields and higher rates of failures in downstream production, and raising the risk of ‘Trojan’ chips and viruses infiltrating U.S. defense systems.”

Technological expertise becomes a strategic weapon too. “As part of its industrial policy aggression, China has forced many American companies to offshore their R&D in exchange for access to the Chinese market.”

With an advanced-stage rare earths project in northern Quebec as well as advanced-stage tantalum-niobium in southern British Columbia, Commerce Resources TSXV:CCE president Chris Grove keeps tabs on Canada’s neighbour. “People in Washington tell me the anxiety level on these issues has never been higher,” he notes.

Here’s the world’s biggest military and they’re saying, ‘We need Chinese stuff to make it all work?’ That’s really for most Americans an absolutely untenable and unbelievable position of weakness.—Chris Grove,
president of Commerce Resources

“Apart from the trade imbalance between the U.S. and China, there’s the vulnerability of the U.S. military. Here’s the world’s biggest military and they’re saying, ‘We need Chinese stuff to make it all work?’ That’s really for most Americans an absolutely untenable and unbelievable position of weakness.”

Sources in Washington encouraged Grove to apply for a research grant from the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency. If successful, the application would bring up to $3 million to further metallurgical progress on his company’s Ashram rare earths project, advancing a potential source in a stable and allied country.

That would complement one of the report’s key recommendations, to “diversify away from complete dependency on sources of supply in politically unstable countries who may cut off U.S. access; diversification strategies may include re-engineering, expanded use of the National Defense Stockpile program, or qualification of new suppliers.”

Other recommendations include creating an industrial policy that supports national security, working with allies and partners on industrial development, expanding industrial investment, addressing manufacturing and industrial risk within the energy and nuclear sectors, encouraging home-grown scientific expertise and occupational skills, and exploring next generation technology for future threats.

In ordering the study, Trump stated the loss of key companies, over 60,000 American factories and almost five million manufacturing jobs since 2000 “threatens to undermine the capacity and capabilities of United States manufacturers to meet national defense requirements and raises concerns about the health of the manufacturing and defense industrial base.”