Tom Cotton’s big plan to “beat China,” explained

“What Vekasi did agree with, though, was another element of Cotton’s plan: ending America’s reliance on China’s extraction and processing of rare-earth elements. These elements are used in high-technology items like smartphones and flat-screen TVs, as well as military weapons systems like warplanes — and that makes them extremely valuable.

The problem is that China is simply dominant in this space. In the making of specialized magnets for electronics, for example, “the Pentagon has had to repeatedly waive a ban on using Chinese-built components in US weapons so that it could install rare-earth magnets in F-35 fighters,” Cotton wrote in his report.

It doesn’t help that when the US extracts rare-earth elements from mines in California and Colorado, more often than not they’re shipped to China to be made into American products, Vekasi told me.

The US simply doesn’t have the labor force to compete with Beijing’s industries, and it won’t unless and until Washington decides to subsidize workers to get trained in that field and companies to hire them, Cotton argues. Until the government does that, the US will remain beholden to China’s firm grip on the rare-earths sector.”

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