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China weighs export ban for rare-earth magnet tech

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Beijing looks to strike back after Washington’s chip restrictions

China is considering prohibiting exports of certain rare-earth magnet technology in a move that would counter the U.S.’s advantage in the high-tech arena. Officials are planning amendments to a technology export restriction list, which was last updated in 2020.

The revisions would either ban or restrict exports of technology to process and refine rare-earth elements. There are also proposed provisions that would prohibit or limit exports of alloy tech for making high-performance magnets derived from rare earths.

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In all, there are 43 amendments or additions in the draft list first announced in December by the commerce and technology ministries. Officials have finished taking public comments from experts, and the changes are expected to go into force this year.

High performance magnets are used in a wide range of applications, such as motors for electric vehicles. China suspended exports of rare earths to Japan following tensions in 2010 surrounding the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims and calls the Diaoyu.

Japan specializes in making high-performance magnets from rare earths while the U.S. produces products that use the magnets. That episode led to a heightened sense of alarm in Japan and the U.S. on the economic security front.

Washington has since moved to forge a rare-earth supply chain on U.S. soil. China’s share of all rare earths produced globally dropped to roughly 70% last year from about 90% a decade earlier, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

At the same time, China still holds a tight grip on processing rare earths. Most rare earths extracted in the U.S. go to China for refining before being shipped back to the U.S.

Amid heightened China-U.S. tensions, both Washington and Tokyo are developing rare-earth supply chains that are less dependent on China. The two countries are sharply restricting exports of advanced semiconductor technology to China with the aim of blunting the nation’s rise in the high-tech field.

The Chinese government, meanwhile, is looking to turn the country into a high-tech manufacturing superpower that can compete with the U.S. Because China is behind when it comes to advanced semiconductors, “they’re likely going to use rare earths as a bargaining chip since rare earths are a weak point for Japan and the U.S.” said a source in the resources industry.

Japan intends to endeavor to strengthen supply chains for critical minerals and other commodities,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters Wednesday. “We’ll continue to closely monitor the institutional impact from China,” Matsuno added.


Source: Nikkei Asia

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