The New York Times reports a Chinese embargo on rare earth minerals - crucial ingredients for countless, very important things - has been applied to the US. Oh, and China possesses 95 per cent of the production capability for this stuff on the entire planet.
The embargo - still denied by Chinese authorities - is only the latest in a growing economic pissing match between the US and China. The contention boils down to a simple fact - despite these minerals being all over the planet, China is the only country in the world currently equipped to mine them out of the ground. This gives them considerable clout when it comes to trade relations - an increasingly tense topic between these two nations.
Japan is already on the rare earth minerals blacklist, but luckily for them, they have a pretty substantial stockpile of the stuff. The US, on the other hand, does not. What does this mean for the US and its domestic corporations? Nobody's really sure, but it can't be good news. "If it's true, it's disturbing news to say the least," says Jeremie Waterman, the China director of the United States Chamber of Commerce. To say the least! These minerals are things you've probably never heard of, rare more in name than abundance - cerite, allanite, monazite - but if American companies want to build cruise missiles and mobile phones (and they definitely do!) they will need these minerals.
So what's next? Possibly high-level, multinational meetings to decide whether China is violating trade laws. But sanctions seem like a long shot. Or the US will have to start expensively building the ability to mine the stuff itself. Or the US could return fire with an export embargo of its own. But what does it have to hold back... perhaps Justin Bieber videos? [NYT]