Well, things are certainly escalating quickly in Rare Earth.
I think this story sums up where we’re at right now – it’s the weird world of post-peak-globalisation.
Basically, the Chinese government is using fake social media accounts to try and spur civilians in Texas to take to the streets.
And you know how hot things could get then. Everyone in Texas carries a gun I’m told.
But the Chinese government wants Texans to get out there and protest. Protest what? Protest against letting an Aussie company build a rare-earths (niche minerals used in high-end tech) processing plant in Texas.
Yup. It’s as weird as that:
Australian miner Lynas is convinced fake social media accounts are spreading disinformation and political agendas hostile to its rare earths business after receiving evidence it was the target of a coordinated cyber campaign that acted in the Chinese national interest.
US cybersecurity firm Mandiant told Lynas that fake social media accounts had sought to incite protests in April and May against the company’s plan to build a rare earths processing plant in Texas.
The social media pressure coincided with final negotiations between Lynas and the US government over a $US120 million financial support package for the Texas project, which is part of a US plan to break China’s stranglehold on production of the 17 rare earth elements needed for electric vehicles and defence tools like drones.
Two other North American producers of rare earths were targeted with similar campaigns and Mandiant said it had “high confidence” the campaigns were consistent with a broader, pro-China cyber campaign it dubbed “Dragonbridge”.
… Mandiant’s conclusions are based on qualitative, circumstantial observations about the way the social media accounts were created and behaved.
The firm told Lynas that many of the accounts were created between March and June, used stock images as profile photos, frequently posted similar or identical content and had formulaic usernames involving random numbers and letters.
Lynas mines rare earths in Western Australia and processes the material in Malaysia, where it runs the world’s only non-Chinese processing plant with the ability to produce “separated” rare earths.
The low levels of radioactivity in the material Lynas processes have sparked community protests in Malaysia at times in the past decade and made the company a political football in the South East Asian nation.
The social media accounts identified by Mandiant posted images of those Malaysian protests when trying to incite Texans and in some cases also called for Malaysians to boycott Lynas.
… The Texas plant will help Lynas gain more exposure to “heavy” rare earths like Terbium and Dysprosium; the flagship products made by Lynas’ Malaysian plant are “light” rare earths Neodymium and Praseodymium.
Australian government agencies have also shown a willingness to invest in securing rare earths supply chains; Export Finance Australia agreed to lend more than $1 billion to Iluka Resources in April on the proviso it builds a rare earths separation plant at Eneabba in WA.
Do you see what’s going on here? If you control rare earths you control high-end tech – which includes missiles I’m guessing.
China has a near monopoly on rare earths and wants to keep it that way. The West is desperately trying to break it up.
And so China has a crack at using social media to whip up a protest and get the Texan plant shut down.
Now, obviously, this isn’t the centre piece of your strategy to maintaining dominance of the world’s rare earth trade. There’s obviously a lot of things going on behind the scenes that we’ve got no idea about.
But this is the state of the post-peak-globalisation world order. We are no longer happy with off-shoring our entire industrial base to China.
(Sounds obviously stupid when you say it like that, but that’s what we were doing until quite recently.)
Those days are gone.
Now, the gloves are off. Now, it’s Chinese robots shit-posting Aussie companies on social media.
What on (rare) earth comes next?