Not again! Apparently, the Chinese are targeting the US now by withholding rare earth exports. For what? According to the NYT's Bradsher again, it's because Beijing is mighty angry at the Section 301 clean energy case that the USTR recently said it would investigate. So, Beijing is retaliating thusly:
"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 shipment restrictions Monday morning, hours after a top Chinese official had summoned international news media Sunday night to denounce United States trade actions.
I was never quite convinced that China's official policy was to impose an outright ban on rare earth exports toward Japan, for some of the reasons I've mentioned in a previous post. I find it even harder to believe that China decided to retaliate against a case that the USTR hasn't even officially picked up by leveraging rare earth elements--especially since the 301 case specifically singled out China's rare earth policies as violating the WTO. So the Chinese decided that "hey, why not make it easier for the US to go after us on rare earths by blocking exports to them!" The Chinese are many things, but they are generally not so obviously callous and more strategic than that. So, such a move seems like rather uncharacteristic behavior on the part of the Chinese.
I am also struck that no US or western company has willingly come forward to validate that they are no longer receiving the minerals from China. And the NYT piece cites three anonymous industry officials, and I do wonder if the names of the sources will eventually be revealed. It would certainly lend more credibility if US companies spoke up on this issue. For now, it reads like some considerable logical leaps to weave together a narrative of China's new instrument of retaliation against perceived or real slights, particularly originating from western countries.