China considers banning ‘rare earth‘ minerals being exported to the U.S. in trade war move which would hit cost of everything from LED lightbulbs to hospital scanners

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  ‘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.

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There are 17 ‘rare earth‘ minerals. They are actually fairly abundant, but difficult to extract – and when they are mined, they are valuable for their uses in some of the advances which the modern world depends on, including the making of fiber-optic cables, lasers, nuclear reactors, and X-ray machines.

Here are the minerals – and some of their uses

Scandium. Found in aerospace alloys and cars‘ xenon headlamps

Yttrium. Used in energy-efficient lightbulbs, spark plugs and cancer treatments

Lanthanum. Found in camera lenses, battery electrodes, and catalysts used in oil refineries

Cerium. Used in self-cleaning ovens and industrial polishers

Praseodymium. Used in lasers and cigarette lighters

Neodymium. Used in electric motors for electric cars, hi-tech capacitors

Promethium.  Found in luminous paint

Samarium. Used in the control rods of nuclear reactors, lasers and atomic clocks

Europium. Used in fluorescent lamps, MRI scanners

Gadolinium. Found in computer memory chips, steel, X-ray machines

Terbium. Used in sonar systems on navy vessels, fuel cells on hi-tech cars

Dysprosium. Used in hard disk drives and lasers

Holmium. Used in mass spectrometers by hospitals and forensic scientists

Erbium. Used in catalysts for the chemicals industry and in batteries designed to store power for the electrical grid

Thulium. Found in portable X-ray machines and lasers

Ytterbium. Used in stainless steel, thyroid cancer treatment and earthquake monitoring

Lutetium. Used in LED lightbulbs, oil refining and medical PET scans