Skip to main content

China cuts mines vital to tech industry

By Kevin Voigt, CNN
August 8, 2012 -- Updated 1130 GMT (1930 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • State media: China will cut production of rare earths by 20%
  • China produces more than 90% of the minerals, which are vital for technology makers
  • Officials: Cuts necessary for environmental reasons, industry consolidation
  • U.S., Japan and EU have filed complaints with WTO against China on rare earths trade

Hong Kong (CNN) -- China will cut production of rare earths -- minerals vital for technology makers worldwide -- by 20%, a move that threatens to inflame trade tensions between Beijing and Washington.

Rare earths are 17 minerals with magnetic and conductive properties that are used in most of today's electronic devices, including flat-screen televisions, smart phones, hybrid cars and weapons. Nearly all of the world's supply of rare earths comes from China.

China changed production rules, which will close down one-third of the nation's 23 mines and about half of 99 smelting companies, Jia Yinsong, director of the ministry's rare earths office, told China Daily Wednesday.

U.S. military's rare earth concerns

China implemented the rules to improve environmental conditions and help consolidate the industry, officials said. The new regulations boost the minimum annual output at mines to 20,000 metric tons and 2,000 tons per year for smelting operation -- a move which will weed out smaller operations.

Minerals dispute threatens tech industry
China hoarding rare earths material?

The U.S., Japan and the European Union have complained to the World Trade Organization that China's rare earths export restrictions violate trade rules.

WTO case against China over rare earths announced by Obama

The minerals include cerium, neodymium, dysprosium, tungsten and molybdenum. Tungsten, for example, is used in electronics, automotive, aerospace and medical technologies. China produces 91% of the world's tungsten. Molybdenum is a metallic element used for filaments in light bulbs. China produces 36% of the world's molybdenum.

Rare earths are not actually "rare," and can be found in other countries - including the U.S. - but are difficult to mine safely. About a third of the world's rare earth deposits are in China but the country controls more than 90% of production, in part due to its lower labor costs and less stringent environmental regulations.

What are rare earth minerals?

CNN's Irene Chapple contributed to this report

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 0551 GMT (1351 HKT)
David McKenzie meets some American teenagers who are spending a year in China to be fully immersed in the culture.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 0259 GMT (1059 HKT)
Chinese students show a handmade red ribbon one day ahead of the the World AIDS Day, at a school in Hanshan, east China's Anhui province on November 30, 2009.
The Chinese government pledges to protect a boy with HIV, who was shunned by his entire village in Sichuan, state media reported.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
A Chinese couple allegedly threw hot water on a flight attendant and threatened to blow up the plane.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 0503 GMT (1303 HKT)
China's 1.3 billion citizens may soon find it much harder to belt out their national anthem at will.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 0021 GMT (0821 HKT)
Los Angeles in the last century went through its own smog crisis. The city's mayor says LA's experience delivers valuable lessons for Beijing.
December 6, 2014 -- Updated 0542 GMT (1342 HKT)
At the height of his power, security chief Zhou Yongkang controlled China's police, spy agencies and courts. Now, he's under arrest.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 0826 GMT (1626 HKT)
China says it will end organ transplants from executed prisoners but tradition means that donors are unlikely to make up the shortfall.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 0648 GMT (1448 HKT)
China's skylines could look a lot more uniform in the years to come, if a statement by a top Beijing official is to believed.
December 3, 2014 -- Updated 0855 GMT (1655 HKT)
Despite a high-profile anti-corruption drive, China's position on an international corruption index has deteriorated in the past year.
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
A daring cross-border raid by one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's associates has -- so far -- yet to sour Sino-Russian relations.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 0051 GMT (0851 HKT)
A 24-hour bookstore in Taipei is a popular hangout for both hipsters and bookworms.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0153 GMT (0953 HKT)
China is building an island in the South China Sea that could accommodate an airstrip, according to IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
North Korean refugees and defectors face a daunting journey to reach asylum in South Korea, with gangs of smugglers the only option.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 2319 GMT (0719 HKT)
China and "probably one or two other" countries have the capacity to shut down the nation's power grid and other critical infrastructure.
ADVERTISEMENT