Vietnam new rare earth mining hub

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Not just the big international tech and electronics giants, now Hanoi is also aiming to expand its role in another ring of tech production: rare earth mining

By Tommaso Magrini

Manufacturing, assembling, producing products with increasing technological value. Vietnam is not content and aims to expand its role on a stage that lies at the root of energy transition and technological development: rare earth mining. In fact, Hanoi is ready to launch upcoming tenders for companies interested in investing in the Dong Pao mine. The site is located in northern Vietnam and is one of the largest rare earth deposits in the world. The timing of the auction could vary, but the government expects to restart the mine next year, Luu Anh Tuan, chairman of Vietnam Rare Earth JSC, the country's main refiner and Blackstone's partner in the project, told Reuters.

The move perhaps not coincidentally follows a recent visit to Hanoi by U.S. President Joe Biden, who also spoke of agreements on rare earths with his Vietnamese counterpart. Dong Pao's reboot proposal-whose timing, extent and degree of foreign financial support have not been previously disclosed-comes as many countries are concerned about their vulnerability to supply disruptions due to China's stranglehold on strategic minerals and its disputes with the United States and its allies. This year Beijing imposed limits on the export of minor metals used in semiconductors, which an influential Chinese policy adviser warned was "just a start." Especially should Washington expand the restrictions, as it is always destined to do come Oct. 7. 

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Vietnam has the second largest deposits of rare earths. However, these deposits have remained largely untapped and investment has been discouraged by low prices, set de facto by China because of its near monopoly on the global market. In interviews with Reuters, 12 industry executives, investors, analysts and foreign officials described plans for Vietnam, including investments that they said demonstrate how talk of derisking supply chains to reduce dependence on China is translating into action. Some acknowledged the difficulties of creating a hub for rare earths, but said the strategy could make Vietnam a viable player and provide an important valve for investment and imports, even if the Chinese role remains dominant. 

A greater role on the rare earth mining front would also be of great interest to electric car manufacturers, including domestic champion VinFast, which is also aiming for a Wall Street listing in the next few months and is also entering the European market. The actual exploitation of Dong Pao-which has been idle for at least seven years, according to an official at state-owned miner Lavreco, which owns a concession-would propel Vietnam into the top rare earth producers. But rare earth refining is complex, and China controls many processing technologies. 

In any case, this is yet another confirmation of Vietnam's centrality in global technology production strategies. 

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