4. The rare earths brawl
In 2010, China and Japan got into a mighty fishing kerfuffle, and Beijing responded by halting exports of rare earth minerals — elements crucial to a slew of military and commercial technologies. The world shuddered, since China produced more than 90% of the world supply.
But then new mining projects sprang up elsewhere, and China, rather than lose its market dominance, lifted the export ban, Axios' Steve LeVine writes.
Today, China is again raising the threat of a rare earths cutoff, this time linked to its trade brinkmanship with the U.S.
- Again, new supplies are being studied elsewhere, including in the U.S., and some experts believe that China will back off.
- But this time, China may not retreat as quickly as in 2010, says Martijn Rasser, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
Between the lines: "China is trying to develop its own micro-electronics industry. They may decide, 'We can use all these rare earths ourselves, and not export them,'" Rasser tells Axios.
The bottom line: Experts say that, even at top speed, it would take five or more years to develop sufficient outside supply of the 17 rare earth elements. A U.S.–China trade deal will probably tamp down the rare earth threats. But in the long term, Rasser says, China is likely to dial back the exports in order to supply its own companies.