HONG KONG/BEIJING (Reuters) - Beijing is “seriously considering” restricting exports to the United States of rare earths, 17 chemical elements used in high-tech consumer electronics and military equipment, the editor in chief of China’s Global Times said on Tuesday.
Rising trade tensions have led to concerns that Beijing will use its dominant position as a supplier of rare earths for leverage in the trade war between the United States and China.
A senior official from China’s National Development and Reform Commission told the Xinhua news agency on Tuesday that Beijing will give domestic demand for rare earths priority, but will meet reasonable demand from other countries.
While the official at China’s national planning body did not directly answer whether Beijing would restrict rare earth exports to the United States, Global Times Editor-in-chief Hu Xijin wrote on Twitter:
“Based on what I know, China is seriously considering restricting rare earth exports to the U.S. China may also take other countermeasures in the future.”
Although the tabloid Global Times is not one of China’s official media, it is widely read and is published by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Party newspaper.
President Xi Jinping visited a rare earth company in southern China last week, state media reported, lifting the shares of producers on speculation that this indicated Beijing was considering using the chemicals in the U.S. trade war.
China accounted for 80% of rare earth imports between 2014 and 2017 by the United States, which has excluded them from recent tariffs along with some other critical Chinese minerals.
Beijing, however, has raised tariffs on imports of U.S. rare earth metal ores from 10% to 25% from June 1, making it less economical to process the material in China.
Additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom; editing by Larry King and Alexander Smith