Myanmar is China’s biggest source of rare earth minerals, accounting for more than half of its supplies.
Exports of rare earth minerals, which are used in smartphones, electric cars and other high-tech products, have steadily increased. Myanmar exported more than 140,000 tons of rare earth deposits, worth more than $1 billion, between May 2017 and October 2021, according to an official Chinese statement.
Nearly 240,000 tons of rare earth minerals were mined globally in 2020, with China accounting for 140,000 tons, followed by the United States (38,000 tons) and Myanmar (30,000 tons).
China is heavily dependent on medium and heavy rare earth minerals from Myanmar.
As of 2018, Myanmar is the largest exporter of minerals to China. In December 2021, China’s state-run newspaper Global Times reported that in 2020, imports of rare earth minerals from Myanmar increased by 23% year-on-year to around 35,500 tons, or 74% of all the imports. A dozen rare earth mineral mines have been opened near the border between Myanmar and China.
Several illegal mines with Chinese workers were discovered in 2019 and 2020 in Chipwi after a series of inspections, according to the Kachin state mining department. The ministry said the involvement of armed groups makes it difficult to regulate the industry.