Vietnam News

China wants role in US-Vietnam rare earths plan

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Chinese pundits say Vietnam should not directly export rare earths but send them to the PRC for processing

Following the conclusion of President Xi Jinping’s Hanoi trip earlier this week, China has claimed itself to be Vietnam’s best choice for trade and diplomatic partnerships in the Asia Pacific region.

Perhaps, but the proof will be in the pudding. Will Vietnam directly export its rare earths, as the US hopes, or send them for processing in China? Chinese pundits want to know. They also want to know whether Hanoi will lease a military port to Washington.

On Wednesday, China and Vietnam signed 36 agreements, covering the Belt and Road Initiative, development cooperation, digital economy, green development, transportation, inspection and quarantine, defense and law enforcement and maritime cooperation. But Vietnamese media said Beijing and Hanoi have failed to reach agreements on nine other issues, including metals and rare earths mining. 

During his own trip to Hanoi in September, US President Joe Biden signed deals with Vietnam on semiconductors and rare earths. He encouraged US investment in rare earth exploration in Vietnam – which is ranked third in the world in its rare earths potential – to counter China’s world domination of the minerals.

Rare earths

Some Chinese pundits said China will boost trade and investments with Vietnam as long as Hanoi continues to maintain a good relationship with Beijing. They said if Vietnam is going to use US investment to explore its rare earth reserves, it should consider shipping the deposits to China for refining. 

According to the US Geological Survey, Vietnam’s rare earth reserves stand at 22 million metric tons, compared with China’s 44 million metric tons. 

Rare earth deposits in Vietnam have remained largely untapped, due to the low prices that are effectively set by China, which was the largest rare-earths supplier in the world last year.

This week, Beijing said it is ready to offer grants to Vietnam to build the railway between Kunming and the Vietnamese port city of Haiphong. The railway will pass through Vietnam’s rare-earths heartland. 

By Jeff Pao – Asia Times – December 16, 2023

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