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Call Of Duty And The Chinese Rare Earths Monopoly

by | 6th, November 2013

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I’VE just realised that I was interviewed about the Call of Duty game back a while. They wanted to know how realistic was the plot point in the game where the Chinese exploited their monopoly of rare earths production.

Complete bollocks was my simple response. Here’s the set up:

Blockbuster video game Black Ops II last year enthralled gamers, with its premise that the world could be brought to the brink of war over China’s dominance of rare earth minerals (REM).

The premise is based on the scarcity of these minerals which are used for, among many other things, powerful batteries, camera lenses, MRI scanners, modern electronics, such as iPods, TVs and computers, and for renewable energies, such as solar panels and wind turbines, meaning they are integral to modern life.

Although obviously far fetched, at its inception Black Op II’s narrative didn’t seem so implausible. For many years, China had been responsible for producing 97% of all REMs. In recent years it has been known to use its monopoly of the industry as a geopolitical weapon, and to drive up the price of REMs. However, more recently China’s dominance has diminished and in November last year, the country closed its largest mine, Baotou Steel mine, in a bid to maintain falling prices.

As a direct result of China’s tactics, the exact opposite to Black Op II’s narrative has occurred – the world hasn’t fought China for its REM riches, but found its own.

As I go on to explain in the piece what actually happened when China tried to use that production stranglehold is that everyone went off and dug other holes in the ground to get their rare earths from.

For the point is that rare earths aren’t rare (nor are they earths) and there’s thousands of places we can go and get them from.

Indeed, I’m currently sitting in a factory in the Czech Republic that used to extract them from the local minerals in the 1950s. And working to do so again.

Yes, OK, it’s not that plot points in video games actually have to be believable anyway but just so you know, this one isn’t.



Posted: 6th, November 2013 | In: Money, The Consumer Comment | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink