A group of Chinese firms jointly established a rare earths innovation center in the northern province of Hebei as part of a plan to develop a manufacturing base in the region, Reuters reports.
The center in Xiongan New Area, a special economic zone around 100 kilometers (62 miles) southwest of Beijing, groups six state-owned enterprises and seven listed firms as core shareholders, according to a statement on the local government’s website.
It will strive to build a “world-class rare earth advanced manufacturing cluster”, the statement added, noting that rare earths are playing an increasingly important role in information technology, new energy vehicles, robotics and high-end medical equipment.
A separate statement on the website of Chinese rare earth producer Shenghe Resources Holding Co. Ltd. (600392.CN) listed itself and others including China Minmetals Rare Earth Co. Ltd. (000831.CN) as partners in the center.
The move comes amid speculation that China, the world’s dominant rare-earths producer, may use its control over supply of the group of 17 prized minerals – used in everything from consumer electronics to military equipment – as leverage in its trade conflict with the United States.
Rare earths are used in rechargeable batteries for electric and hybrid cars, advanced ceramics, computers, DVD players, wind turbines, catalysts in cars and oil refineries, monitors, televisions, lighting, lasers, fiber optics, superconductors and glass polishing.
China has been actively looking to develop its own downstream rare-earth industries, notably in the mining center of Baotou in Inner Mongolia, a move that would reduce its reliance on exporting rare earths.
China’s state planner, the National Development and Reform Commission, confirmed on Monday that rare-earth export controls had been suggested by industry experts.
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