In recent years, the United States has intensified its focus on the resilience of its supply chains, transforming critical minerals into a contemporary power-play field for global superpowers. As allegations swirl that the U.S. has been the primary disruptor of international supply chains, attempts are being made to cast China in a disparaging light. As these geopolitical moves intensify, it is crucial for India to maintain clarity and not become an unwitting pawn in Washington’s global chess game.
Modi’s Warning and the Chinese Element
On a significant note, India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, warned of a looming “new model of colonialism.” This alert comes amid concerns over the custody and equitable distribution of critical minerals, which, as Modi highlights, are “abundant in some places and not present at all in others, but all of humankind needs them.” These words ring especially true as technological advancements and modern necessities make these minerals indispensable.
While Modi did not directly reference China, several Western and Indian media sources were quick to connect the dots. Citing that “China accounted for 70 percent of world mine production of rare earths in 2022,” these sources placed the Asian giant under the spotlight. This observation is intriguing, given that even though China stands as the world’s most prolific producer of rare earths, its track record does not suggest any misuse of this dominant position. China’s approach to rare-earth resource management has predominantly been proactive, committed, and responsible. In stark contrast, the U.S. has garnered attention for its aggressive maneuvers that arguably disrupt global supply chains.
The US’s Move: Formation of the MSP
In mid-2022, a significant announcement came from the U.S. and some of its economic partners: the formation of the Minerals Security Partnership (MSP). This initiative, the White House claimed, was designed to “bolster critical mineral supply chains.” Furthermore, as the year came to a close, the U.S., in conjunction with other Western nations, declared an alliance focused on the production and procurement of critical minerals. Their criteria emphasized “stronger environmental and labor standards” — a move interpreted by many, including notable media houses like Reuters, as a potential curb on business ties with China.
The overarching goal of the U.S. appears to be the establishment of a robust critical mineral alliance, aiming to fortify its position in global competition. However, its inclination to foster exclusive partnerships and insular groupings seems counterproductive, with negligible stimulus to the U.S. economy. If anything, such strategies risk backfiring, generating unnecessary confrontations and further destabilizing global supply chains.
Conspiracy Theories and Critical Minerals
China, in recent times, has become the subject of various conspiracy theories emanating from the West, particularly surrounding themes of “neocolonialism.” Yet, the irony lies in the U.S.’s actions, which seem to inflict greater damage on global supply chains with their seemingly arbitrary and impulsive nature.
Understanding the importance of critical minerals underscores the gravity of these geopolitical moves. Minerals like rare-earth elements, lithium, and cobalt are foundational to many modern technologies. From batteries and electric vehicles to wind turbines and solar panels, their relevance cannot be overstated. Given that the U.S. relies heavily on importing these minerals, ensuring the security of these imports becomes paramount.
However, the current approach from Washington seems more focused on harnessing geopolitical clout rather than genuinely addressing the core issue. By attempting to politicize critical minerals and using its influence to create exclusive cliques, the U.S. seems to be sidelining genuine partners and allies in a quest driven by pure self-interest. If the world indeed stands on the precipice of a “new model of colonialism,” many might argue that it is a construct of the U.S.
India’s Position and the Potential Pitfalls
June saw India aligning itself with the U.S.-led MSP. This development was a part of a joint declaration by Modi and U.S. President Joe Biden during Modi’s U.S. visit. With the U.S.’s evident ambition to tighten its grip on global critical mineral supplies, it becomes paramount for India to tread carefully to avoid becoming ensnared in the U.S.’s aspirations for economic dominance.
Despite the West’s consistent narrative painting China as a neocolonial power in Africa, many African nations seem unpersuaded, recognizing instead the genuine cooperation and equal partnerships they’ve experienced with China.
For India, adopting Washington’s perspective might not align with its best interests. Considering that China and India are the two foremost emerging economies, their collaborative potential, particularly in the domain of critical minerals, remains vast and untapped. Engaging in a constructive exploration of this potential might yield benefits far superior to being caught in international power struggles.
In the shifting sands of global geopolitics, nations like India must navigate with caution and foresight. While alliances and partnerships are inevitable, it’s essential to ensure that they align with long-term national interests rather than transient geopolitical games. The domain of critical minerals, given its overarching significance, becomes a litmus test for such decision-making.