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EU’s dilemma: Unveiling China’s hidden mineral strategy and its policy implications

In the midst of the EU’s efforts to reduce reliance on China for critical mineral supplies, China’s opacity regarding long-term plans for its mineral sector poses significant challenges. The MERICS think tank highlights the difficulty Western researchers face in obtaining reliable information about Chinese policy, hindering assessments of future developments in vital sectors.

Recent measures by China to restrict the export of certain raw materials and related technologies, such as gallium, germanium, and select graphite products, raise concerns about the potential weaponization of resources crucial for Europe’s green transition. EU initiatives like the Critical Raw Materials Act aim to decrease dependency on Chinese supplies, necessitating an understanding of both current policies and long-term Chinese goals in this area.

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China’s mineral resources planning, characterized by periodic documents issued since the early 2000s, has provided insights into priorities and policies. For instance, the 2016-2020 National Plan for Mineral Resources outlined objectives and identified 24 “strategic minerals” vital for China’s economy and defense. However, the expected 2021-2025 national plan and other commodity-specific plans have not been released, indicating a shift towards secrecy.

The lack of transparency complicates EU’s de-risking strategy for mineral supplies. Without a clear understanding of China’s intentions, European policymakers struggle to design effective responses. Additionally, restrictions on foreign access to information foster distrust and contribute to an information imbalance between China and the EU.

In response, Europe must prepare for reduced access to Chinese mineral strategy information. While it’s challenging to influence China’s transparency, EU policymakers can highlight the rationale behind de-risking policies and accelerate measures to mitigate supply chain vulnerabilities in the face of increased uncertainty.

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