China controls the metals that are vital to the modern economy. Is the West’s fightback too late?
Passengers passing through the new, £300 million terminal of Addis Ababa airport in Ethiopia are greeted by an array of signs in Chinese, directing them to their connecting flights across the continent.
Groups of transiting Chinese workers and engineers traipse through the arrivals and departures areas, often wearing matching hazmat suits and plastic goggles to guard against Covid-19.
They, and the Chinese-built airport, are a fitting symbol of the billions of dollars that China has ploughed into Ethiopia — and Africa — over two decades to fund giant infrastructure projects.
Addis is just one hub in a global web of Chinese influence, control and money that has arisen as the world’s second largest economy races to secure the minerals needed for the future generations ofelectric cars, wind turbines and batteries to drive the green revolution.
To a great extent, it is a race Beijing has already won….
…theoretically at least, in the most important minerals for the future green economy — nickel, cobalt, graphite, lithium and so-called rare earth metals — China could effectively turn on, and turn off, the world’s supply at will…
Ben Stoikovich, chairman of Aim-listed graphite miner Sovereign Metals #SVML, noted the contradiction in using China to process metals intended to drive the net-zero agenda. “We don’t know how it’s produced, we don’t know what chemicals they use, we don’t know just how polluting it is. So the upshot is our very clean ambitions are driven by quite dirty production methods,” he told a parliamentary meeting earlier this year.
Belatedly, the response from the West has been to go shopping for assets — or to throw money at smaller miners. In 2019 the US merged its international development arms into the International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), charged with investing in projects across the globe and furthering US foreign policy, with the power to lend $100 billion.
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