Back in April of 2018, when the trade war with China was still in its early stages, we explained that among the five “nuclear” options Beijing has to retaliate against the US, one was the block of rare-earth exports to the US, potentially crippling countless US supply chains that rely on these rare commodities, and forcing painful and costly delays in US production as alternative supply pathways had to be implemented.
As a result, for many months China watchers expected Beijing to respond to Trump’s tariff hikes by blocking the exports of one or more rare-earths, although fast forwarding one year later this still hasn’t happened. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen, and overnight President Xi Jinping’s visit to a rare earths facility fueled speculation that the strategic materials will soon be weaponized in China’s tit-for-tat war the US.
As Bloomberg reported overnight, shares in JL MAG Rare-Earth surged by the daily limit on Monday after Xinhua said the Chinese president had stopped by the company in Jiangxi, a scripted move designed to telegraph what China could do next.
The reason for the dramatic market response is that the presidential visit flags policy priorities, and “rare earths have featured in the escalating trade spat between the U.S. and China.” Specifically, as Bloomberg notes, China raised tariffs to 25% from 10% on American imports, while the U.S. excluded rare earths from its own list of prospective tariffs on roughly $300 billion worth of Chinese goods to be targeted in the next wave of measures. And just in case the White House missed the message, Xi was accompanied on the trip to JL MAG by Liu He, the vice premier who has led the Chinese side in the trade negotiations.
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