China bans export of rare earth processing kit

Beijing also wants its human gene-editing kit – and LiDAR– to stay at home

China has added a host of technologies related to rare earth production to its list of restricted exports.

An updated list published on Thursday by China's Ministry of Commerce mentions rare earths 17 times. Chinese state media reports the update includes items Beijing feels should not be freely exported in order to safeguard China's "economic and technological rights and interests."

Analysis from outside China suggests the expanded list bans tech for making rare-earth magnets, mining rare earths, and refining the substances.

Rare earths are vital for the manufacture of many high-tech products. China is currently the world's dominant source of the substances, and has long pursued a policy of local value-adding by refining the stuff and/or building it into useful components rather than shipping raw product offshore. China has therefore developed much of the world's best tech for processing rare earths.

That policy has given Beijing leverage over important supply chains – power it displayed in July 2023 when it restricted the export of Gallium and Germanium, which are required for semiconductor manufacturing.

Resources companies the world over are scouring the planet for deposits of rare earths, and working hard to put new sources into production. Governments are throwing money at the problem, too, in hope of speeding the development of freshly discovered resources and ensuring refiners and other necessary players are in place.

All of which takes time, leaving China with an advantage it can use – for years to come – to slow development of certain industries beyond its borders. And as renewable energy production and energy storage are two industries dependent on rare earths, China has a powerful position as the world seeks to move to a net zero future.

China's refreshed export ban list also added cell cloning and gene editing tech intended for human use for the first time. Bulk material handling and transportation technology also made the list of items that require a license before exports are allowed.

So did LiDAR – a move that looks very much like a tit-for-tat action after US lawmakers recently called for bans on exports so that China can't use American-made tech to build autonomous systems. ®

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