China companies begin big lithium hunt in Afghanistan

Published on : 07:27 PM Nov 24, 2021

Looking out for ways and means to explore, extract and exploit the rare earth resources, Chinese officials and company representatives have already arrived in conflict-torn Afghanistan, reports ETV Bharat’s Sanjib Kr Baruah

New Delhi: Finally the cat is out of the bag. Among the main cited reasons for China’s interest in Afghanistan are the rich reserves of rare earths—mainly lithium—that the latter is known to possess. And now it has emerged that Chinese companies have already landed in Afghanistan by the dozens to explore ways and means to extract and exploit the rare earths.

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At least 25 Chinese companies have begun exploring ways to mine the critically important lithium and other rare earth deposits that Afghanistan is known to possess.

A very recent report in the state-owned mouthpiece ‘Global Times’ quoted Gao Susu, an official in the China Arab Economic and Trade Promotion Committee, as saying that while five Chinese companies have already posted representatives and officials in Afghanistan, more than 20 other Chinese state-owned and private companies have expressed interest in the mining of lithium. Advertisement

The importance that the Chinese government and the Afghanistan’s Taliban regime places on the extraction and exploitation of lithium can be gleaned from the fact that these Chinese representatives are the first batch of officials to be issued the special visas meant for Chinese investors.

But at the same time, there is a lot of apprehension on the security aspect in war-ravaged Afghanistan with the ruling regime mirroring a picture of instability and uncertainty. Even as nightmarish scenarios of food scarcity and hunger continue to loom large, radical Islamic terrorist groups like the Islamic State or ‘Daesh’ continue with their violent activity.

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Afghanistan is known to possess huge lithium reserves valued at more than $1 trillion that is largely concentrated in Ghazni province. The richest reserves of the world’s lithium reserves are concentrated in South America—in Chile, Bolivia and Argentina—followed by Australia. But it is China that controls most of the world’s lithium-processing facilities.

Rare earths are indispensable for most existing and emerging energy, scientific, and military technologies, including in the production of modern-day items like computers, laptops, mobile phones, digital cameras, solar panels, electric cars, satellites, lasers, and in making military platforms like fighter aircraft engines.

Specifically, lithium is indispensable in making batteries of electric vehicles (EV) besides its use in the batteries of laptops and cell phones, as well as in the glass and ceramics industry. The value of lithium can be gauged by the fact that the world is on the verge of an EV revolution.

Today, China, by far, is the world leader in the production of rare earths and metals. Many recent reports allude that China covets its rare earth resources more to achieve its aim of geopolitical dominance and as leverage for use against the West rather than the commercial value. Incidentally, China also produces nearly two-thirds of the world’s lithium-ion batteries.

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