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Visualizing China’s Dominance in Rare Earth Metals

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China's rare earth metals exports

China’s Dominance in Rare Earth Metals

Did you know that a single iPhone contains eight different rare earth metals?

From smartphones and electric vehicles to x-rays and guided-missiles, several modern technologies wouldn’t be what they are without rare earth metals. Also known as rare earth elements or simply “rare earths”, this group of 17 elements is critical to a number of wide-ranging industries.

Although deposits of rare earth metals exist all over the world, the majority of both mining and refining occurs in China. The above graphic from CSIS China Power Project tracks China’s exports of rare earth metals in 2019, providing a glimpse of the country’s dominating presence in the global supply chain.

China’s Top Rare Earth Export Destinations

Around 88% of China’s 2019 rare earth exports went to just five countries, which are among the world’s technological and economic powerhouses.

Export DestinationShare of China's Rare Earth ExportsTop Rare Earth Import (tons)
Japan36.0%Cerium
United States33.4%Lanthanum
Netherlands9.6%Lanthanum
South Korea5.4%Lanthanum
Italy3.5%Cerium
Rest of the World12.1%Cerium

Japan and the U.S. are by far the largest importers, collectively accounting for more than two-thirds of China’s rare earth metals exports.

Lanthanum, found in hybrid vehicles and smartphones, was China’s largest rare earth export by volume, followed by cerium. In dollar terms, terbium was the most expensive—generating $57.9 million from just 115 metric tons of exports.

Why China’s Dominance Matters

As the world transitions to a cleaner future, the demand for rare earth metals is expected to nearly double by 2030, and countries are in need of a reliable supply chain.

China’s virtual monopoly in rare earth metals not only gives it a strategic upper hand over heavily dependent countries like the U.S.—which imports 80% of its rare earths from China—but also makes the supply chain anything but reliable.

“China will not rule out using rare earth exports as leverage to deal with the [Trade War] situation.”

—Gao Fengping et al., 2019, in a report funded by the Chinese government via Horizon Advisory.

A case in point comes from 2010 when China reduced its rare earth export quotas by 37%, which in part resulted in skyrocketing rare earth prices worldwide.

average prices of rare earth imports

The resulting supply chain disruption was significant enough to push the EU, the U.S., and Japan to jointly launch a dispute settlement case through the World Trade Organization, which was ruled against China in 2014.

On the brighter side, the increase in prices led to an influx of capital in the rare earth mining industry, financing more than 200 projects outside China. While this exploration boom was short-lived, it was successful in kick-starting production in other parts of the world.

Breaking China’s Rare Earth Monopoly

China’s dominance in rare earths is the result of years of evolving industrial policies since the 1980s, ranging from tax rebates to export restrictions. In order to reduce dependence on China, the U.S. and Japan have made it a priority to diversify their sources of rare earth metals.

For starters, the U.S. has added rare earth metals to its list of critical minerals, and President Donald Trump recently issued an executive order to encourage local production. On the other side of the world, Japan is making efforts to reduce China’s share of its total rare earth imports to less than 50% by 2025.

Increasing rare earth mining outside of China has reduced China’s global share of mining, down from 97.7% in 2010 to 62.9% in 2019. But mining is merely one piece of the puzzle.

Ultimately, the large majority of rare earth refining, 80%, resides in China. Therefore, even rare earths mined overseas are sent to China for final processing. New North American refining facilities are being set up to tackle this, but the challenge lies in managing the environmental impacts of processing rare earths.

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Ranked: The Cities with the Most Skyscrapers in 2023

We rank the world’s leading cities with the most skyscrapers, highlighting China’s remarkable dominance in building vertically.

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Ranked: The Cities with the Most Skyscrapers in 2023

When it comes to soaring skylines and architectural marvels, no country has embraced the vertical revolution quite like China.

In this graphic, which uses data from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), we reveal the 25 cities with the most skyscrapers and supertall buildings globally.

Unsurprisingly, China’s cities dominate the list, solidifying the country’s reputation as a global powerhouse of tall buildings.

The 25 Top Cities by Skyscraper Count

Topping the charts is Hong Kong, with an impressive 657 skyscrapers, including six supertalls (buildings over 300 meters tall).

RankCityCountrySkyscrapers (>150m)Supertalls (>300m)
1Hong Kong🇨🇳 China6576
2Shenzhen🇨🇳 China51316
3New York City🇺🇸 United States42116
4Dubai🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates39528
5Guangzhou🇨🇳 China25411
6Shanghai🇨🇳 China2505
7Kuala Lumpur🇲🇾 Malaysia2115
8Chongqing🇨🇳 China2055
9Tokyo🇯🇵 Japan2000
10Wuhan🇨🇳 China1835
11Chicago🇺🇸 United States1787
12Jakarta🇮🇩 Indonesia1601
13Chengdu🇨🇳 China1500
14Bangkok🇹🇭 Thailand1333
15Shenyang🇨🇳 China1293
16Singapore🇸🇬 Singapore1280
17Nanning🇨🇳 China1226
18Mumbai🇮🇳 India1140
19Tianjin🇨🇳 China1093
20Nanjing🇨🇳 China1087
21Toronto🇨🇦 Canada1060
22Busan🇰🇷 South Korea1064
23Seoul🇰🇷 South Korea1042
24Changsha🇨🇳 China975
25Melbourne🇦🇺 Australia941

Hong Kong, along with Shenzhen (#2), and Guangzhou (#5) are part of the burgeoning megacity known as the Pearl River Delta, which is home to over 1,500 skyscrapers. This is even more impressive when considering that Shenzhen was a small fishing village until the 1970s.

New York City secures the third position on the list, boasting an impressive tally of 421 skyscrapers. Although it may have relinquished its title to Chinese cities, the city’s skyline endures as a globally renowned symbol, prominently featuring the iconic Empire State Building. Notably, while the Empire State Building enjoys widespread familiarity, it no longer ranks among the world’s 50 tallest structures.

Rounding out the top five is Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, which grabs the fourth position with 395 skyscrapers, a staggering 28 of which are supertalls. This desert oasis has become synonymous with grandiose architecture and record-breaking structures, exemplified by the Burj Khalifa, which is the world’s current tallest building at 828 meters (2,715 ft).

China’s Numbers in Context

Looking at this data from another perspective, China actually has more skyscrapers on this list than the rest of the world combined.

CountryCities in Top 25SkyscrapersSupertalls
🇨🇳 China12277772
🌐 Rest of World13235067

China’s rapid urbanization, economic growth, and ambitious construction projects have fueled this impressive feat. There’s no doubt that the country’s relentless pursuit of vertical development, coupled with its booming population and thriving cities, has positioned China as the unrivaled leader in the global skyscraper race.

The Future of the Global Skyline

As the world continues to reach new heights in architectural marvels, there are even more supertall skyscrapers in the pipeline that will reshape skylines across the globe.

From the soaring Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia, poised to surpass the Burj Khalifa as the world’s tallest building, to the remarkable Merdeka 118 in Kuala Lumpur, which is set to claim the title of the world’s second-tallest structure when it opens in June 2023, these projects will captivate city dwellers for years to come.

Even as these new monumental buildings rise, China’s prominence in the world of skyscrapers—with three cities in the top five globally—is likely to remain unchallenged.

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