The Geopolitics of the Rare-Metals Race – by Guillaume Pitron (The Washington Quarterly – April 25, 2022)

The Washington Quarterly

The 20th century was the era of black gold; the 21st will
undoubtedly be the era of metals

In 2010, a team of Pentagon officials and American geologists uncovered Afghanistan’s best kept secret: a plethora of mining resources such as lithium, copper, cobalt—including 1.4 million metric tons of rare-earth elements, estimated to be worth more than $1 trillion, all of them essential to modern industry.

After this development, Afghanistan, according to The New York Times, rapidly became heralded as a country which could “be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world.” More than a decade later, however, US forces filing out of Afghanistan were leaving these resources untapped, attracting the interest of neighboring nations.

In July 2021, China and the Taliban agreed on a pact of non-aggression, ensuring that the former will not meddle in Afghan political affairs, and that the latter will not use its territory as a base for Uyghur separatists. The pact substantiates what The Global Times, a newspaper with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party, reported: “huge opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries, especially in sectors such as utilities and mining.”

China expects to soon begin the extraction of copper—an essential resource for manufacturing electric cars—from the Mes Aynak mine in the Logar province, for which the Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC), one of the leading Chinese metallurgical companies, signed a 30-year lease in 2007.

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