I blogged about this topic a couple of times last month, and now it looks like the issue is already coming to North American shores. Not exactly sure what China is up to here, but it is very serious economic saber-rattling, and in a media world full of manufactured bogeymen, this is an issue to actually be concerned about.
From the third (and final) link:
Last month, the New York Times reported that the Chinese government clamped down on its exports of rare earth metals, which are used in the manufacture of all kinds of electronics, to Japan. Now, it appears that a similar thing is happening with Western countries like the United States, the Times reports, though Chinese officials deny it.
The Chinese action, involving rare earth minerals that are crucial to manufacturing many advanced products, seems certain to further intensify already rising trade and currency tensions with the West. Until recently, China typically sought quick and quiet accommodations on trade issues.
But the interruption in rare earth supplies is the latest sign from Beijing that Chinese leaders are willing to use their growing economic muscle. “The embargo is expanding” beyond Japan, said one of the three rare earth industry officials, all of whom insisted on anonymity for fear of business retaliation by Chinese authorities.
They said Chinese customs officials imposed the broader restrictions on Monday morning, hours after a top Chinese official summoned international news media Sunday night to denounce United States trade actions.
As we said last time, the mechanics of any rare earth metal embargo is important to manufacturers and suppliers, but hard to pin down. What’s important, policy-wise, is that we could have a domestic rare earth metal industry in the United States, but we have refused to support it in the belief that the market would always deliver what we needed from low-cost Chinese suppliers.