(Bloomberg Opinion) — There was a time when China could cause the world to tremble by threatening its supply of rare earths. It’s long in the past.
That’s reason not to worry too much about news that Beijing is planning to ban exports of technology for refining the suite of minor metals. Such a move, if taken, is likely to backfire even more spectacularly than its previous attempts to weaponize the trade in rare earths itself.
In 2010, a dispute between China and Japan over which country owns a group of islands off the northeast coast of Taiwan caused Beijing to impose export restrictions on all 17 rare earths.
That was a problem for Japan, which depends on elements like neodymium, dysprosium and terbium as essential components of equipment such as motors, LEDs, lasers and fuel cells.
At the time, China had a near monopoly of the world’s production of the metals. Without alternative sources of supply, Japan’s hi-tech industry would be crippled.
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