Chinese media organizations, including the flagship Communist Party newspaper, strongly hinted Wednesday that Beijing is about to use its dominance of the rare earths market to strike back at the U.S. in the growing trade war. Rare earths, a group of 17 chemical elements, are used to make smartphones and other electronics, military equipment, and electric vehicles, among other goods, and the U.S. relies on China for about 80 percent of its supply. President Trump's administration excluded rare earths from its list of Chinese imports subject to tariffs.
Chinese President Xi Jinping's visits to a rare earths plant with his lead trade negotiator last week sparked speculation that China was getting ready to use its dominance of the rare earths market as leverage in the trade war. The editor in chief of the Communist Party-affiliated Global Times newspaper tweeted that China is "seriously" considering restricting rare earths exports to the U.S., and an official at the state planning agency dropped a similar hint.
"The U.S. side wants to use the products made by China's exported rare earths to counter and suppress China's development. The Chinese people will never accept this!" China's official state People's Daily newspaper said in an editorial on Wednesday. "We advise the U.S. side not to underestimate the Chinese side's ability to safeguard its development rights and interests. Don't say we didn't warn you!" Official Chinese media uses "Don't say we didn't warn you" sparingly, to warn rivals over serious areas of disagreement, like border disputes, Reuters reports.