Pentagon eyes rare earth supplies in Africa in push away from China


The US Department of Defence has held talks with Malawi’s Mkango Resources and other rare earth miners across the globe about their supplies of strategic minerals, part of a plan to find diversified reserves outside China, a department official said on Wednesday.

The push comes as China threatens to curb exports to the United States of rare earths, a group of 17 minerals used in a plethora of military equipment and hi-tech consumer electronics.

Although China contains only a third of the world’s rare earth reserves, it accounts for 80 per cent of US imports of minerals because it controls nearly all of the facilities to process the material, according to US Geological Survey data.

“We are looking for any source of supply outside China. We want diversity. We don’t want a single-source producer,” Jason Nie, a material engineer with the Pentagon’s Defence Logistics Agency, said on the sidelines of the Argus US Specialty Metals conference in Chicago.

Workers transport soil containing rare earth elements for export at a port in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, in October 2010. Photo: Reuters

The DLA, which buys, stores and ships much of the Pentagon’s supplies – ranging from minerals to aeroplane parts to zips for uniforms – has also held talks with Burundi’s Rainbow Rare Earths about future supply, as well as offered to introduce the several US rare earth projects under development with potential financiers, Nie said.