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Trade war

China starts work on vast new rare earth mine

Move comes as country reviews using metals in US trade war

China is a major supplier of a variety of rare earth minerals that are essential to several key technologies including electric car motors. (Photo courtesy of Advanced Material Japan)

BEIJING -- China has begun what is described as a project to develop one of the world's biggest rare earth mines at a time when the supply of the vital industrial metals has become caught in the U.S.-China trade war.

China Minmetals Rare Earth, a unit of state-owned China Minmetals, started developing the deposit in the Jianghua Yao Autonomous County of Hunan Province, according to the local government.

The project could further boost the self-sufficiency of the world's top producer of rare earth elements, an essential ingredient in such technologies as magnets for electric-car motors.

Local media describe the deposit as containing one the world's largest reserves of middle and heavy rare earths, which include the material dysprosium, which is used in high-performance magnets. A timeline and scale for production were not disclosed.

The announcement comes soon after China's top planning body, the National Development and Reform Commission, said in early June it would consider imposing export controls on rare earths.

In May, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the Jiangxi Province city of Ganzhou, one of China's top rare-earth producing areas. Xi described rare earths as "an important strategic resource," in what was seen as a warning to the U.S.

China accounts for about 70% of global production of rare earths, and the U.S. imports roughly 80% of its rare earth supply from China.

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