Whoever Thought Rare Earths Could Be Sexy and Fun?
by Ann Bridges
Whoever thought rare earth could be sexy and fun? I did!
But then I’m a big fan of international suspense novels as a way to learn about complex issues.
Inspired by China’s 2010 embargo of rare earth, I decided to write Rare Mettle to explore the broad set of questions surrounding this usually obscure industry, especially the impact on Silicon Valley’s businesses. For fun, I added a sexy undercover agent and high-tech innovators to the fast-paced thriller, and developed plausible scenarios and provocative outcomes, perfect for the upcoming election year.
My research began after speaking with a journalist who covered the 2010 real-world event, moved into a crash course in geology, and then (groan!) a refresher course in the Periodic Table of Elements (chemistry was NOT my strong suit in school).
Talking to local high-tech investors, I discovered an almost cavalier attitude to the issue, as if pre-negotiated trade agreements would magically protect the world’s supply chain, even in the face of political disputes.
Digging further into Congressional testimony and investor newsletters, I found repeated documentation of China’s stated goal to dominate this commodity, in the same way the Middle Eastern countries dominated last century’s energy industry.
Rattled, then concerned, I asked myself–what’s a high-tech-business-woman-turned-novelist to do?
Answer–depict the worst-case scenario to capture the hearts and minds of the world, much the same way Michael Crichton did with Jurassic Park to highlight the ethics and dangers of careless disregard for genetics research.
Hopefully, I manage to communicate rare earth’s relevance in easy-to-understand language, so that anyone can grasp the implications of today’s geopolitical economics and the supply chain for our next generation of technology, energy, and military weaponry.
As China pursues technology transfers and global leadership unabated, we would be foolish to trust blindly the pat responses from Washington D.C. politicians, military bureaucrats, and established industry channels. After all, they’ve known about this issue for decades and have kept it quiet.
I had to ask–why? Hopefully, you will, too.
RARE METTLE EXCERPT:
The TV was already pre-set to CNN, which kept its relevance by leaking upcoming stories to the right people in D.C., including the exact time they would first air. Apparently, Hank achieved a coveted spot on its distribution list. Hurrah for ass kissing.
“New threats from China put the State Department on high alert this morning,” reported the bland, brunette anchor. “China pledged to block all future shipments of rare earth elements to the United States if we sell our newest military technology to Taiwan.”
Paul jerked forward. His brain raced from the familiar kick of adrenalin.
“These refined metals are used in the manufacture of laser-guided missiles and our newest weapons,” the reporter continued, “among other high-technology products contributing to the booming sales of mobile devices. China’s Northern Province of Inner Mongolia mines and processes over 93% of the earth’s supply of these minerals. We’ll keep you posted as the story develops.”
Hank flicked off the TV. “Our leaders learned about the possible embargo two hours ago, and are discussing an appropriate response,” he stated in official monotone, but the telltale twitch of his nostrils clued Paul into how seriously Hank took this threat. “We need to touch base with all our field personnel for insights into potential solutions or risks.”
That explained Hank’s focus on Kay. Her last email disclosed advanced military technology using those obscure minerals, hiding under a cloak of tiny Chinese game companies. Kay’s cover as an interpreter for an American venture capitalist in Beijing worked wonders getting her behind closed doors.
Her most recent missive was surprisingly cryptic. But in the last two weeks…nothing. Had whatever she stumbled onto provoked this diplomatic muscle-flex from the Chinese Communist Party? And put her in greater danger, too?