Friday 14th December 2018

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Posts tagged ‘united states’

U.S. military’s new super-alloy would increase American dependence on a critical metal

November 26th, 2018

by Greg Klein | November 26, 2018

Researchers hail it as the material most similar to vibranium, the wondrous substance associated with the land of Wakanda and Captain America’s shield—except that this stuff actually exists outside of comic books, movies and games.

U.S. military’s new super-alloy would increase American dependence on a critical metal

A real-life Captain America would find himself
depending on geopolitical rivals. (Image: U.S. Army)

Described as a “super-strong alloy of copper and tantalum that can withstand extreme impact and temperature,” it was concocted by boffins from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and Arizona State University.

Its features could prove useful in space exploration, weaponry, and protection for soldiers and military vehicles, said Kristopher Darling, a materials scientist with ARL.

The alloy’s strength and conductivity offer possibilities for other metals too. “Materials based on iron or aluminum for instance could be used for protection and lethality applications,” he added.

The copper-tantalum alloy “can withstand high rates of impact and temperatures in excess of 80% of their melting point, which is higher than 1,073 kelvin or greater than 1,472 degrees Fahrenheit, with very little change in its microstructure,” ARL explained.

U.S. military’s new super-alloy would increase American dependence on a critical metal

The new alloy’s fictional competition.
(Image: Natural Resources Canada)

The multidisciplinary team developed the new alloy originally to replace copper-beryllium. Although that alloy’s also known for its strength, conductivity, hardness and resistance to corrosion, exposure to beryllium can cause a serious lung condition.

Should the new alloy prove a practical substitute, it would also substitute one critical metal for another. Both beryllium and tantalum can be found in a list of 35 critical minerals drafted by the U.S. last February and confirmed in May.

Although the U.S. holds about 60% of the world’s known beryllium resources, the country relies entirely on imports for tantalum, according to U.S. Geological Survey data.

American president Donald Trump has called for a national strategy to reduce the country’s dependence on critical minerals from potentially hostile or unstable jurisdictions.

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

U.S. military’s new super-alloy would increase American dependence on a critical metal

November 23rd, 2018

This story has been moved here.

Drill-ready money

November 19th, 2018

Canada’s hitting a six-year high in exploration spending

by Greg Klein

Canada’s hitting a six-year high in exploration spending

Osisko Mining’s (TSX:OSK) Windfall project offers one reason why
Quebec leads Canada and gold leads metals for exploration spending.
(Photo: Osisko Mining)

 

Blockchain might offer intrigue and cannabis promises a buzz, but mineral exploration still attracts growing interest. A healthy upswing this year will bring Canadian projects a nearly 8% spending increase to $2.36 billion, the industry’s highest amount since 2012. According to recently released data, that’s part of an international trend that puts Canada at the top of a worldwide resurgence.

The $2.36 billion allotted for Canadian exploration and deposit appraisal forms just a small part of the year’s total mineral resource development investments, which see $11.86 billion committed to this country, up from $10.61 billion in 2017.

Those numbers come from Natural Resources Canada, which surveyed companies between April and September on their spending intentions within the country for 2018. The $2.36-billion figure includes engineering, economic and feasibility studies, along with environmental work and general expenses.

Canada’s hitting a six-year high in exploration spending

Trial extraction for Pure Gold Mining’s (TSXV:PGM)
Madsen feasibility studies encourages interest in
Ontario’s Red Lake region. (Photo: Pure Gold Mining)

Of that number, Quebec edges out Ontario for first place with $623.1 million in spending this year, 26.4% of Canada’s total. Ontario’s share comes to $567.5 million or 24%. Last year’s totals came to $573.9 million for Quebec and $539.7 million for its western neighbour. Prior to that, however, Ontario held a comfortable lead year after year.

Third-place British Columbia gets $335.5 million or 14.2% of Canada’s total this year, an increase from $302.6 million in 2017.

On a per-capita basis, Yukon’s enjoying an exceptional year with an expected $249.4 million or 10.6% of Canada’s total. That’s the territory’s second substantial increase in a row, following $168.7 million the previous year.

Saskatchewan dips this year to $187.2 million (7.9%) from $191.2 million in 2017. But the Fraser Institute’s last survey of mining jurisdictions placed the province first in Canada and second worldwide.

Nunavut drops too, for the third consecutive time, to $143.9 million (6.1%), compared with $177 million in 2017. The Northwest Territories’ forecast declines to $86.2 million (3.7%) this year after $91.2 million last year.

Canada’s hitting a six-year high in exploration spending

Among companies leading Yukon’s exceptional performance
is White Gold TSXV:WGO, with substantial backing from
Agnico Eagle Mines TSX:AEM and Kinross Gold TSX:K.
(Photo: White Gold)

Especially troubling when contrasted with Yukon’s performance, data for the other territories prompted NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines president Gary Vivian to call on federal, territorial and native governments and boards to help the industry “by creating certainty around land access, by reducing unnecessary complexity and by addressing the higher costs they face working in the North. Sustaining and growing future mining benefits depend on it.”

The pursuit of precious metals accounts for $1.5 billion in spending, nearly 64% of Canadian exploration. Ontario gets almost 31% of the precious metals attention, with 27% going to Quebec.

Base metals, mostly in Quebec, B.C. and Ontario, get 15.5% of the year’s total. Uranium gets 5%, almost entirely in Saskatchewan. Diamonds get nearly 4%, most of it going to the NWT and Saskatchewan. But nearly 11% of this year’s total goes to a category vaguely attributed to other metals, along with coal and additional non-metals.

Getting back to this year’s exploration total ($2.36 billion, remember?), senior companies commit themselves to nearly 55%, compared with nearly 51% last year. But the juniors’ share remains proportionately much larger than the pre-2017 years.

Additional encouragement—and on an international level—comes from S&P Global Market Intelligence. Using different methodology to produce different results, the Metals and Mining Research team found worldwide budgets for nonferrous exploration jumping 19% this year to $10.1 billion.

Juniors have been reaping the biggest budget gains at 35%. Over 1,651 functional exploration companies represent an 8% improvement over last year and the first such increase since 2012. But that’s “still about 900 companies less than in 2012, representing a one-third culling of active explorers over the past five years.”

The most dramatic spending increase hit cobalt and lithium, this year undergoing an 82% leap in exploration spending. That’s part of a 500% climb since 2015, SPGMI says.

Canada’s hitting a six-year high in exploration spending

Nemaska Lithium’s Whabouchi project in Quebec
contributes to the enthusiasm for energy metals.
(Photo: Nemaska Lithium)

Even so, precious and base metals retained their prominence as gold continues “to benefit the most from the industry recovery.” The global strive for yellow metal will claim $4.86 billion this year, up from $4.05 billion in 2017. Base metals spending will grow by $600 million to $3.04 billion. “Copper remained by far the most attractive of the base metals, although zinc allocations have increased the most, rising 37% in 2018, the report states. “Budgets are up for all targets except uranium.”

SPGMI finds Canada keeping its global top spot for nonferrous exploration with a 31% year-on-year budget increase. Second-place Australia achieved a 23% rise. The U.S. total places third, although with a 34% increase over the country’s 2017 performance.

In each of the top three countries, over 55% of the budgets focused on gold.

“Improved metals prices and margins since 2016 have encouraged producers to expand their organic efforts the past two years,” commented SPGMI’s Mark Ferguson. “Over the same period, equity market support for the junior explorers has improved, leading to an uptick in the number and size of completed financings. This allowed the group to increase exploration budgets by 35% in 2018.”

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

November 16th, 2018

…Read more

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.

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.”

WGC says gold poised to bounce back; GATA asks what’s going on

August 23rd, 2018

by Greg Klein | August 23, 2018

Even with prices floundering around 20-month lows, the World Gold Council sees technical and fundamental reasons for optimism. But a sustained recovery would depend on consumers and long-term investors, the industry organization stressed.

WGC says gold poised to bounce back; GATA asks what’s going on

A strong U.S. dollar helped push gold below $1,200 this month for the first time since early 2017. Yet given past performance, the “increasingly short” futures positions bode well for a sharp rally, the WGC stated. Other positive factors include larger consumer and investor gold markets in emerging countries, where demand in those two areas has doubled over the last 20 years. Central banks in emerging markets have also been expanding their holdings, now accounting for about 500 tonnes of annual demand.

Russia bought more gold in July than any other month since November, Bloomberg reported. Citing IMF data, the news agency said the country bolstered its reserves by 26.1 tonnes in July, for a total of 2,170 tonnes that the central bank values at $77.4 billion. Last spring Russian First Deputy Governor Dmitry Tulin called gold “a 100% guarantee from legal and political risks,” Bloomberg added.

Discussing possible catalysts for a gold rally, the WGC included expansion or long-term application of trade sanctions, higher inflation resulting from nationalist economic policies, and European risks ranging from Brexit to the continent’s exposure to emerging market debt. Although growing strength in the U.S. dollar might continue to keep gold down, the organization said geopolitical risks to the global economy might overcome the dollar’s effects.

As usual, a different perspective came from the Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee. Earlier this month GATA’s Robert Lambourne questioned recent activities by the Bank for International Settlements. The gold broker for most central banks increased its use of gold swaps and gold derivatives by about 17% in July. “The bank’s total estimated exposure as of July 31 was about 485 tonnes of gold versus about 413 tonnes as of June 30,” he stated.

The increase came as there increasingly appeared to be a correlation between the gold price and the valuation of the Chinese yuan, both of which fell substantially during the month. The BIS refuses to explain what it is doing in the gold market and for whom, engendering suspicion that it is helping one or more of its members to manipulate the currency markets through deception.

To place the bank’s use of gold swaps in context, its current exposure of 485 tonnes is higher than the gold reserves of all but 10 countries.

Speaking with Kitco News, Avi Gilburt of ElliottWaveTrader.net expressed caution about a possible rally. “Until there is clear bullish direction in the market, investors who want to trade gold should stick with GLD,” he emphasized.

Gold fell from this year’s high of $1,357.70 in January to $1,173.78 last week, before moving up to a press time price of $1,185.03.

Commerce Resources’ rare earths metallurgy moves forward amid heightened supply concerns

August 20th, 2018

by Greg Klein | August 20, 2018

In an update on tests conducted by l’Université Laval, Commerce Resources TSXV:CCE reports another stage of progress with completion of crushing, grinding and large-scale flotation. About 1.5 tonnes of material were processed from the company’s Ashram deposit in northern Quebec, now moving towards pre-feasibility. With results meeting expectations, the project advances to a pilot-level hydrometallurgical component.

Commerce Resources’ rare earths metallurgy moves forward amid heightened concern for RE supply

Last month Commerce announced an important milestone in producing Ashram’s first concentrate of mixed rare earth oxides, showing the deposit’s amenability to different flowsheet approaches.

Laval’s next stage will use flotation concentrate to produce a purified solution containing rare earth elements, which will then be separated into light, medium and heavy rare earths. At the same time, the solution composition will be used to assess a solvent extraction separation pilot circuit using a software model simulator developed by the university. Results will allow further assessment of the economics of separating Ashram’s REEs into individual rare earth oxides.

Funding for the project comes through a $365,000 grant from Quebec’s ministère de l’Économie, de la Science et de l’Innovation.

As work continues, geopolitical developments bring increasing concern about rare earths supply. Trade hostilities between the U.S. and China have led to speculation about how the latter country, by far the world’s biggest rare earths producer, will use its resources as a weapon.

This year the U.S. included rare earths in a list of 35 minerals deemed essential to the country’s economy and defence, as part of a strategy to encourage production of critical minerals at home and among allied countries.

The list also includes tantalum and niobium, which Commerce has delineated at its advanced-stage Blue River project in east-central British Columbia. Back in Quebec, a few kilometres from Ashram, the company also holds an early-stage high-grade niobium project that’s conditionally subject to a 75% earn-in by Saville Resources TSXV:SRE.

Read more about Commerce Resources.

Senkaku II

July 23rd, 2018

How might a U.S.-China trade war affect rare earths?

 

At first glance, the rare earths aspect of the U.S.-China tariffs tussle looks like small change—a proposed 10% duty on American RE imports that might cause a smallish markup on some manufactured goods and wouldn’t necessarily apply to defence uses. But all that’s part of a much bigger battle that will probably target $250 billion of Chinese exports to the U.S. China used an incomparably smaller incident in 2010 to rationalize a ruthless sequence of rare earths trade machinations. Could something like that happen again, this time with different results?

How might a U.S.-China trade war affect rare earths?

Hostilities began earlier this month as the U.S. imposed a 25% tariff on approximately $34 billion worth of Chinese imports, with levies on another $16 billion likely to come. China retaliated with tariffs on equal amounts of American imports.

The U.S. re-retaliated with a threatened 10% on an additional $200 billion of Chinese imports in a process that would follow public consultation. The additional list includes rare earth metals along with yttrium and scandium, which are often considered REs but rate distinct categories in this case.

Last year the U.S. imported $150 million worth of 15 RE metals and compounds, up from $118 million the previous year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Some 78% came directly from China, with much of the rest derived from Chinese-produced concentrates. Yttrium shows a similar story, with 71% coming directly from China and nearly all the rest from Chinese concentrates. Although lacking hard numbers for scandium, the USGS states that too comes mostly from China.

Globally, China produced over 80% of world RE supply last year, but with less than 37% of the planet’s reserves.

Rare earths plus scandium comprise two of 35 mineral categories pronounced critical to the American economy and defence by Washington last May, after Donald Trump called for a “federal strategy to ensure secure and reliable supplies of critical minerals.” Now the same administration wants to slap those commodities with a 10% price hike.

And at risk of provoking powerful Chinese retaliation.

Rare earths watchers will remember the 2010 confrontation around the disputed South China Sea islands of Senkaku. The Japanese navy arrested a Chinese fishing crew captain who had twice rammed his boat against the military vessel. Within days, China banned all rare earths exports to Japan, crippling its globally important but RE-dependent manufacturers. China also imposed heavy cutbacks and duties on exports to other countries.

While some Western manufacturers relocated to China, Western resource companies strove to develop alternative supplies. Lynas Corp’s Mount Veld project in Western Australia and Molycorp’s Mountain Pass project in California both reached production in 2013. The following year the U.S. claimed victory as the World Trade Organization ordered China to drop its export restrictions on rare earths, as well as tungsten and molybdenum.

China complied with a vengeance, flooding the world with cheap RE supply. America’s WTO victory proved Pyrrhic as a burgeoning non-Chinese supply chain failed to compete. The most salient casualty was Mountain Pass, which went on care and maintenance in 2015.

So does China have more rare earths machinations in mind, this time responding not to a minor territorial dispute but tariffs affecting $250 billion of Chinese exports?

Maybe, but different circumstances might bring a different outcome. Since the Senkaku-induced RE crisis, advanced-stage projects have developed potential mines outside China. Work has progressed on non-Chinese supply chains, working to eliminate that country’s near-monopoly on processing expertise. Most recently, the U.S. has begun an official critical minerals policy to encourage development of supplies and supply chains in domestic and allied sources.

Of course any future scenario remains speculative. But this time the West might be better prepared for China’s tactics. Any new export restrictions might spur development of the deposits that now exist outside China. Any Chinese attempts to dump cheap supply could face further, far more punishing tariffs. While some other industries might suffer in the shorter term, Western resource companies might welcome Senkaku II.