The China-West Lithium Tango in South America – by Ali Rahman and Leland Lazarus (The Diplomat – October 23, 2023)

Despite the push toward decoupling, China-West collaboration persists in South America’s Lithium Triangle. But in the age of strategic competition, how long will this last?

In the vast, almost haunting expanse of the high Argentine desert, beneath layers of brine and time, lies an element that could easily be mistaken for table salt. Yet, this mineral holds the key to power electric vehicles, cell phones, and the whole green energy revolution. They call it “white gold” – lithium.

The Cauchari-Olaroz mine, located in Argentina’s Jujuy province, promises to churn out 40,000 tons of lithium over the next 40 years. But more riveting than the mineral is the strange corporate partnership extracting it. The mine is jointly owned by Canada’s Lithium Americas and China’s Ganfeng Lithium.

As the United States and China compete globally, Western companies are seeking ways to “decouple” or “de-risk” from their erstwhile Chinese counterparts. Every company is feeling the ripples, especially those in the global hunt for critical minerals.

But in this tempest, an oasis emerges: South America’s Lithium Triangle, encompassing Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile. The Canadian-Chinese mining venture at Cauchari-Olaroz typifies the continued China-West collaboration in South America’s lithium heartland. But in the age of strategic competition, how long will this tango last?

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