China controls the supply of crucial war minerals (The Economist – July 13, 2023)

Recent moves to restrict their flow highlight a danger to the West

In 2014 tom price, a commodities strategist, visited a “funny little building” in China’s south-west. It was a warehouse where Fanya, a local trading firm, stored metals including gallium, germanium and indium. The company’s “stockpiles” simply sat in boxes on shelves.

Yet for some of the minerals, these meagre supplies represented the majority of global stocks. A year later Fanya was closed by China’s government, which kept the stash—as well as the reserves and plants to produce more.

Today Western countries wish they, too, could produce some more. On July 4th China announced that it would restrict exports of gallium and germanium, of which it supplied 98% and 60% of global output, respectively, in 2022.

Produced in tiny quantities, the metals have little commercial value. They are nevertheless crucial for some military equipment, including lasers, radars and spy satellites. The decision highlights that “critical” minerals are not limited to those which underpin economic growth, such as nickel or lithium. A dozen obscure cousins are also vital for a more basic need: maintaining armies.

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