China turns to belt and road countries in race to secure tech-critical minerals

As the US and China continue their stand-off over the latter’s rising technological capacity – and control over the minerals critical for tech production and development becomes a question of paramount importance- Beijing has intensified its efforts to build partnerships with countries taking part in its Belt and Road Initiative to ensure a steady, stable supply chain for these essential raw materials.

The world’s second-largest economy secured mineral cooperation deals with more than 10 countries in Asia, South America and Africa during last week’s Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, according to the project list and statement released by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

One such agreement concerned continued investment in the Simandou iron ore project in Guinea, believed to have the world’s largest untapped high-quality iron ore reserve with an estimated 2.4 billion tonnes. The deal will lower China’s dependency on ore from Australia and Brazil.


China restricts critical metal exports following Western semiconductor curbs in latest trade war

China restricts critical metal exports following Western semiconductor curbs in latest trade war

China is also looking to Asian partners, especially resource-rich Indonesia and Kazakhstan, to fulfil its appetite for minerals.

The country is investing in a nickel cobalt hydroxide wet process project, a nickel metal production line and supporting facilities with an annual output of 126,000 tonnes in Indonesia, and a tungsten mine project in Kazakhstan.

Last year, direct investment by Chinese companies in Indonesia reached a record US$8.23 billion, a year-on-year increase of 160 per cent that made China Indonesia’s second-largest trade partner, according to the Indonesian Ministry of Investment.

Other projects include the second phase of the Kamoa copper and cobalt mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Kururi potash mine project in Eritrea and the 3Q and Cauchari-olaroz lithium projects, both in Argentina.

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Cooperation on minerals was brought up in several meetings between national leaders during the forum, including those held with Chile, Mongolia and Serbia.

Beijing has repeatedly stressed the gravity of its energy security and mineral supplies, and officials have stated two-thirds of the country’s strategic mineral supply is highly dependent on external sources.

This need has been made all the more apparent as Western countries attempt to disrupt China’s supply chains for these essential elements.

After the US levied curbs on China’s access to advanced technology, the country ordered reciprocal export restrictions on gallium and germanium beginning in August – two technology-critical elements over which China has a near-monopoly supply. Both countries have an interest in securing mineral resources for industrial advancement in fields like semiconductors, artificial intelligence and electric vehicles.

Countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s global infrastructure-building strategy, are highly complementary in both supply and demand for minerals. According to a 2017 article from China Mining News, a publication under the Ministry for Natural Resources, initiative participants hold 200 types of minerals with an approximate value of US$250 trillion.

Minerals have been crucial under the initiative, first sketched out by President Xi Jinping 10 years ago, on visits to Kazakhstan and Indonesia to cover the ancient Silk Road and maritime routes linking Asia, Africa and Europe.

“Some countries in the Silk Road Economic Belt have resources that are in short supply in China, like copper, cadmium and nickel; Central Asian countries with rich oil and gas resources have relatively weak exploration, development and mining capabilities,” the official Xinhua news agency wrote in 2015.

“Cooperation in this field has huge potential.”

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