China Cornering South Africa’s Rare Earth Metals?

China has a proven track record of strategic economic and environmental exploitation around the world. In 2010, for example, Beijing cut off exports critical to Japan’s hybrid car and missiles manufacturing to obtain the release of its fishing vessel being held by Tokyo. It played pricing wars with coal in Angola and Kenya. Now it’s increasing its economic presence and influence in South Africa, well beyond its own Pacific theater. It should be sounding political alarms across the swampy spectrum.

When it comes to South Africa, China was the largest provider of public finance for energy development from 2014 to 2016. Around a third of African coal-fired power plants built in the past decade were constructed by Chinese contractors, the majority with Chinese funding, according to a 2016 report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Conveniently for the devolving “democratic” South African government, the Chinese do not get too caught up in details like safe work environments, human rights, or democracy.

Why should Americans care? South Africa has 860,000 MT of rare earth metal reserves. It is the eight highest reserve in the world, just after the U.S., and it is politically and economically vulnerable. These components are essential to modern technology, from your smartphone to your car to our military’s advanced arsenal.

As the nation’s leading trade and energy partner and lender, China’s rise in South Africa provokes concern that the post-colonial nation is again under “foreign occupation,” if only because corrupt leadership has given the green light at the expense of the nation. China is also politically gaining ties with the nation embroiled in rising race-based civil unrest and growing increasingly distant from the U.S., a trend starting before President Donald Trump took the helm, though you would never know this from the mainstream media coverage.

Domestically, China’s revved-up influence in South Africa has coincided with worsened and stubborn unemployment, increasing wealth inequality and race-based “land reform” political “solutions.” It could also be behind the more nefarious “land reform” political exploitation of South African racial tensions and Apartheid history. There has been more than one case made that the South African ruling party is simply helping Beijing gain access to privately-held mineral-rich lands in order to help its personal bank accounts. (Perhaps to diminish U.S. influence while gaining further control of rare earth minerals?) Since 2009, the nation has veered sharply in favor of Russia and China and away from the United States. More alarmingly still, “A Better Africa in a Better and Just World,” a 2015 document produced from the African National Congress’ (ANC) foreign policy discussions, concludes that South Africa should follow the Chinese communist model. (At the same time Western liberalism rejects notions of “American colonialism.”)

Even if one could “care less” about South African domestic politics, it (and Africa overall) represents a shifting balance in global politics and economics, one that was previously determined by the U.S. Such national policy in South Africa is fostering distance from the West and pointedly serves China’s own strategic interests in the region. It also gains momentum from the “climate change” agendas led by the global Left, whether Macron in Paris or the Bernie Sanders crowd in DC. It is strengthened by China’s own Sun Tzu strategies of winning without fighting, and all the while the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez enthusiastically fights fictional climate change windmills and pursues idealistic policies that will put the U.S. at a severe disadvantage when it comes to maintaining not only our energy security but national security as well.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Sheena Hutchison

Sheena Hutchison is a political and media analyst with nearly a decade of experience specializing in providing media and policy articulation on domestic and national security issues.

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