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First critical minerals dialogue in Central Asia

The U.S. Department of State convened the inaugural session of the Critical Minerals Dialogue (CMD) in the C5+1 format, chaired by Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Jose W. Fernandez on February 8, 2024. The dialogue, announced during the C5+1 Summit in September 2023, aims to bolster Central Asia’s role in global critical mineral supply chains while fostering economic cooperation and environmental conservation.

Central Asia’s abundant reserves of critical minerals present opportunities for strategic partnerships and investment. The United States, along with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, seeks to harness these resources to advance clean energy technologies and protect the region’s unique ecosystems.

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The dialogue explored cooperation initiatives such as the ‘Partnership for Mineral Resource Security’ and ‘Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment.’ Central Asian representatives expressed interest in attracting American investments to develop their critical mineral sectors, recognizing the potential economic benefits. However, challenges remain, including financing large-scale initiatives comparable to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

One key objective of the CMD is to counter China’s dominance in critical mineral supply chains, a strategic vulnerability for the United States. China’s control over rare earth elements (REEs) and other essential minerals poses risks to U.S. national security and economic interests. By diversifying supply sources and enhancing partnerships with Central Asian countries, the United States aims to mitigate these risks and strengthen its technological manufacturing capabilities.

Central Asia’s vast mineral resources, including rare earth elements, chromium, and uranium, offer significant investment opportunities. Kazakhstan, in particular, boasts the largest reserves of known REEs in the region, positioning it as a key player in global critical mineral markets. The region’s potential has attracted interest from various stakeholders, including France and Mongolia, reflecting the growing importance of critical minerals in global geopolitics.

The development of transportation routes and energy infrastructure is crucial for unlocking Central Asia’s mineral wealth and reducing dependence on Russia. Projects such as the Middle Corridor, aimed at diversifying supply routes, hold promise for enhancing regional integration and energy security.

Moving forward, public-private partnerships will be essential for harnessing Central Asia’s mineral potential and reducing U.S. reliance on China. The CMD serves as a platform for fostering collaboration and innovation in critical mineral development, shaping the future of global economic and technological power dynamics.

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