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Geopolitics of Resources: China Eyes North Korean Rare Earth Mine

North Korea plans to grant China access to a rare earth mine in exchange for investment in solar energy that could ease chronic power shortages in the impoverished country, according to a report from industry pricing and data provider CBC, or China Bulk Commodity. China is the world’s leading producer of rare earths, which includes 17 chemical elements prized for their use in consumer electronics and military equipment. North Korea is believed to have significant untapped rare earth resources.
The report on the website of the Association of China Rare Earth Industry said that China’s reward for investing about $2.5bn into a 2.5 million kilowatt-hour per day solar plant in North Korea, China’s would be mining rights to a rare earth mine in North Pyongan province on its borders. However, one Chinese rare earth industry source was more skeptical, describing such an agreement with North Korea as “wishful thinking” and questioning the real level of Chinese interest in the project.” Investing in North Korea is not safe. Its international reputation is poor and many companies will not necessarily be interested,” said the source, who did not wish to be identified.
In the meantime, questions were also raised about how the scheme would comply with UN sanctions. In response to Pyongyang’s ballistic missile tests, the UN in 2016 imposed sanctions that ban North Korea from supplying, directly or indirectly, “gold, titanium ore, vanadium ore, and rare earth minerals” and said all states should bar their nationals from procuring such materials. The North Korean embassy in Beijing has not yet commented on this report, while the North Korean consulate in Shenyang, in northeast China, declined to make any statement on the matter. China’s Ministry of Commerce also has not responded to a request for comment.

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