Rare earth elements, known as an industrial vitamins, are not only important components in the production of defense products such as missile guidance systems and aircraft engines, but also electric vehicles, and a key raw material for the production of permanent magnets used in wind turbines. In order to continue to control the global rare earth supply chain, the CCP manipulates the media and social media under its control to create public opinion on the internet, slander competitors, and obstruct and destroy the establishment of rare earth supply chains outside China by Western countries.
On August 22, Canadian company Neo Performance Materials announced that it had purchased the mining rights of the Sarfartoq from Hudson Resources for $3.5 million. Sarfartoq is a rare earth project in Greenland. Observers believe that this move has opened up a way for the world to reduce its dependence on China’s rare earths.
Voice of America said in its report that countries such the United States, Japan, and the countries of Europe see their dependence on China’s rare earths as a “national security risk” and seek to diversify their supply chains. EU officials also “encouraged this project as it could help Europe become more self-sufficient in rare earths.”
The VOA report sparked a backlash from the Chinese Communist Party’s state-run Global Times, which said that the United States and its allies had brought toxic geopolitics to the key rare-earth industry and other economic and trade sectors in an effort to contain the CCP’s rise.
This is similar to the reaction of the Global Times when Turkish media reported the discovery of large rare earth deposits in the country in July. The paper said at the time that China’s processing advantages in the rare earth industry would not be simply weakened by the discovery of other rare earth mines.
CCP media has repeatedly reacted violently to rare earth mine development projects outside China, repeatedly emphasizing its unshakable advantage in rare earth supply, revealing the CCP’s fears of potential challengers.
The CCP uses overseas media to spread drugs
On June 28, U.S. cybersecurity firm Mandiant disclosed in a report that a pro-CCP group was spreading negative information online about several important foreign rare earth companies in an attempt to thwart their latest rare earth development activities.
The report said that, since June 2019, Mandiant has reported suspicious activity by a pro-CCP group called Dragonbridge to clients.
Dragon Bridge is made up of thousands of fake social media accounts that spread all kinds of statements in support of the CCP’s political interests and all kinds of false news on numerous social media platforms, websites. and forums.
Recently, Mandiant found that for months Dragon Bridge had been attacking three Western rare earth mining companies on social media.
The three rare earth companies attacked were Australian rare earth mining company Lynas, Canada’s Appia Rare Earths & Uranium Corp., and USA Rare Earth. The report said all three companies were targeted because their operations posed a threat to China’s dominance of the global rare earth market.
Lynas is the world’s largest rare earth mining and processing company outside of China, and is the core company for the United States, Australia, and Japan to set up rare earth supply chains outside China.
In 2009, China Nonferrous Metals Mining Group attempted to acquire 51.6% of Lynas shares and gain a controlling stake, but ultimately it failed due to strong opposition from all walks of life in Australia.
Lynas mines nearly 20,000 tons of rare earth oxides annually at the Weld Mountain rare earth mine in Australia. After selection, it is shipped to a processing plant in Kuantan, on the east coast of Malaysia, for refining. A Bloomberg report said that Lynas’s rare earth production has been able to meet all the needs of the United States, including the 500 tons of rare earth raw materials needed for defense equipment production.
In June, the U.S. Department of Defense signed a $120 million contract with Lynas to build a rare earth separation plant in Texas.
However, the proposed factory has come under an organized attack on social media accounts controlled by Dragonbridge.
Mandiant’s report said the fake accounts controlled by Dragonbridge posing as local Texas residents, pretended to be concerned about the local environment and health, and spread questions about Lynas Rare Earth’s environmental records in multiple Facebook and Twitter groups. Claims that the new plant will cause irreversible environmental damage has encouraged locals to boycott Lynas’s plans to build a plant in Texas.
In June, Mandiant observed that accounts controlled by Dragonbridge began to spread negative information against two other rare earth companies, both of which happened to announce new rare earth projects.
At that time, Canada’s Apia Rare Earths announced the discovery of a new rare earth mine in northern Saskatchewan, while the American Rare Earth Company announced that it would build a rare earth processing plant in Oklahoma.
Mandiant said it was clear that the companies’ announcements about rare earth projects had sparked the Dragonbridge attack.
John Hultquist, vice president of Mandiant, believes that the purpose of Dragonbridge’s smear campaign against the three rare earth companies is to maintain the CCP’s influence and control in the rare earth market.
Mandiant noticed that Longqiao operates on 30 platforms, mainly disseminating offensive remarks in English, with very little content in Chinese. The cyberattacks on the Dragon Bridge accounts all target industries that are of strategic importance to the CCP. The fake accounts also exaggerate and exploit criticism from politicians in both parties over the Biden administration’s plans to expand domestic production of critical minerals in an attempt to undermine U.S. efforts to rebuild critical mineral supply chains.
Hultquist said Dragonbridge is a pro-CCP organization that is rich in resources and it was developed from an information campaign against Hong Kong. Although the person behind the company has not been identified, “the Chinese government is the main suspect.”
According to a Bloomberg report in August, Albert Zhang, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute think tank, conducted independent monitoring of Longqiao and concluded that Longqiao’s social media activities were CCP’s information operation.
The CCP wants to maintain its monopoly on supplying rare earths
At the beginning of this century, China has dominated the global rare earth market.
The CCP used a low-price competition strategy to destroy the world’s largest rare earth supplier at the time, the Mountain Pass rare earth mine in the United States. At the end of the last century, the CCP once controlled more than 90% of the world’s rare earth supply. By 2020, that had dropped to nearly 60 percent, but it still dominates.
According to data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), in 2020, the world’s proven rare earth reserves are about 120 million tons, of which China’s reserves are 44 million tons (accounting for 37%). It used to be 140,000 tons, accounting for 58%.
According to Mandiant’s report, China used its dominance in the rare earth supply chain as a geopolitical bargaining chip to threaten Western countries.
In 2010, after China and Japan escalated their dispute over the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands, the CCP began to blackmail Japan by restricting exports of all 17 rare earth materials to Japan.
This move has made Western countries aware of the dangers of relying on China’s supply chain. Bloomberg commented that the lesson of the 2010 supply crisis is that the CCP will use rare earths as a geopolitical weapon, and diversification of rare earth supply sources is absolutely necessary.
On July 13, U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said at a meeting with several Australian mining giants in Sydney that the United States is concerned that key minerals may be vulnerable to manipulation or weaponization. It will cooperate with Australia and mining companies have teamed up to build their own supply chains, including rare earths.
The Inflation Reduction Act, recently signed into law by President Joe Biden, encourages the production of key minerals such as rare earths in the United States. Amendments have been made to make subsidies available for the sale of electric vehicles in the United States. And a roadmap for the gradual reduction of China’s supply of key minerals such as lithium and rare earths in battery materials has been established.