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China Daily, People’s Republic of China

Obama’s Rare Earth ‘Hypocrisy’ Shows Disregard for China’s Environment


By filing complaints with the World Trade Organization against China for allegedly restricting exports of industrially-vital rare earth elements, is the Obama Administration turning its back protecting the environment? According to columnist Chen Weihua of the state-run China Daily, the position of the United States and its allies, who decided long ago to leave their rare-earth minerals in the ground due to environmental concerns, is nothing but outright hypocrisy.


By Chen Weihua*



March 15, 2012


People’s Republic of China – China Daily – Original Article (English)

A man in China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region pours the rare-earth mineral Lanthanum into a mould. The United States, Japan, and the E.U., frustrated over a lack of access to China's supply of rare-earth minerals, which are essential for the production of light bulbs, electronics, fiber optic cable and a myriad of other things, have filed a complaint against Beijing for breaching its WTO obligations.


CHINA CENTRAL TV [STATE-RUN]: China stands firm on restrictions of rare earth mineral exports, Mar. 16, 00:00:34RealVideo

President Barack Obama announced on Tuesday that the United States, joined by Japan and the European Union, has filed a World Trade Organization complaint over rare earth export quotas on the part of China. Mr. Obama said this is an effort to “give American workers and American businesses a fair shot in the global economy."


Obama’s words imply that as long as U.S. workers and businesses profit from a cheap supply from China, he doesn’t really care about the environmental degradation that the disorderly and excessive mining of rare earth materials cause.


For a president who likes to portray himself as pro-environment, this is shocking. And he does this even as he battles Republican presidential candidates over clean energy issues, and after attempting to restore America to a leading role at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009.


China's new regulations on rare earth refining and export, which were introduced a number of years ago, are based on a sound rationale of sustainable growth and environmental protection.


Experts believe repairing the ecosystems damaged by rampant rare earth mining over past decades will cost tens of billions of dollars - and American, Japanese and European businesses are unlikely to foot the bill.


On the other hand, countries like the U.S., Canada and Australia, which once produced their own rare earth minerals, halted doing so a decade ago due to environmental concerns and higher costs compared to Chinese supplies.


When discussing China's purchase of raw materials from Africa and Latin America, many Americans and Europeans like to use the word "grabbing resources" or even "colonialism," but none would use similar words to describe their own exploitation of cheap rare earth minerals from China.


This is just hypocrisy.


According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there are about 13 million metric tons of rare earth deposits in the United States. Instead of buying from China, Obama should propose tapping America’s own deposits. Such a move would not only enable it to share responsibility for supplying rare earth materials, it would create jobs for Americans, the single most powerful weapon Obama needs to defeat a Republican candidate in November.  



In filing the case with the WTO, Obama no must to convince other of why China should deplete its own resources, disregarding environmental and public health concerns that are prominently addressed in China's 12th Five-Year Guide (2011-15).




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In this case, a WTO victory for America, Japan and the E.U. would be a defeat for the global environment.


With only a third of the world's rare earth deposits, China now produces over 90 percent of the global rare earth minerals, a group of 17 elements that are widely used in high-tech products such as solar panels, batteries for electric cars and cell phones.


The lack of strong regulations in the past has posed grave dangers to the country and its people by depleting natural resources and destroying the environment. For example, rare earth mining has polluted drinking water in regions along some waterways linked to rare earth mines.


*Chen Weihua is the New York based deputy editor of the China Daily U.S. edition.




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[Posted by WORLDMEETS.US March 16, 3:11pm]




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