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Imperialist Rivalry Plays Out in Fight for Control of Australia's Rare Earth Minerals Deposits

Written by: Ned K. on 4 December 2023


(Above: Image from Flickr Commons)

While all the hand shaking and well-wishing between Prime Minister Albanese during his recent meetings with US President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, on the economic front, the competition for access and control of raw materials, a feature of imperialist rivalry, continues.

With changes in technology this competition spreads to new raw materials required by capitalist production. One of the new areas is the desperate search for access and control of the world's 17 critical minerals defined as rare earths.

Even though China mines 70% of these critical minerals and processes more than 80% of them, companies based in China are still in the hunt for these critical minerals in other countries. Australia has a growing number of critical minerals mines. 

The dominance of China in the race for access and supply of critical minerals has alarmed the Quad members, Australia, USA, Japan and India who want to find alternative sources of these minerals. 

The 17 critical minerals (rare earths) are essential in the manufacture of such commodities as electric vehicles, wind turbines and for the precision-guided missiles.

Given this relatively new arena of imperialist rivalry, it may come as no surprise to see the Australian Financial Review headlines on Monday 27 November, "China Link To Firm In Rare Earths Fight".

The article was about a rare earth mine in Browns Range in the north east of WA near the NT border. The mine is owned by Northern Minerals and will have the first fully integrated rare earths refinery. The federal government is putting up $1.25 billion loan for the building of the refinery. The refinery will process dyprosium and terbium.

A Singapore registered company, Yuxiao, has signed a co-operation agreement with China Northern and Shanghai-based Shenghe Resources. Yuxiao has shares in Northern Minerals and recently had its attempt to increase its shares in Northern Minerals to 19.9% blocked by the Australian Government Treasurer Jim Chalmers. 

This Browns Range venture is meant to be part of the Quad goal of decreasing dependency on China for critical minerals.

Yuxiao with direct connections with Chinese capital is now trying to install one of its people on the board of Northen Minerals.

Dyprosium and terbium are essential for the permanent magnets used in weapons systems to give them extreme accuracy, according to former Defence Minister Kim Beasley.

Beasley is an adviser to Lockheed Martin which uses these critical minerals in its fighter jets.
The story of imperialist rivalry is being played out on the economic front behind the facade of diplomacy. 

The other untold story about this imperialist rivalry for critical minerals is that these powers put their interests before the interests of First Nations people who may object to the mines or demand ownership and control of the mines as a condition of them going ahead.
Additional reading:  In 2019 we covered the imperialist rivalry over Australian dysprosium deposits, concluding that "Pressure will be exerted in all manner of ways by both US and China on the Morrison Government regarding to where the rare earths from Australia are exported."  See: Rare Earth Minerals and Australian Independence


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