Aluminum   $ 2.1505 kg        |         Cobalt   $ 33.420 kg        |         Copper   $ 8.2940 kg        |         Gallium   $ 222.80 kg        |         Gold   $ 61736.51 kg        |         Indium   $ 284.50 kg        |         Iridium   $ 144678.36 kg        |         Iron Ore   $ 0.1083 kg        |         Lead   $ 2.1718 kg        |         Lithium   $ 29.821 kg        |         Molybdenum   $ 58.750 kg        |         Neodymium   $ 82.608 kg        |         Nickel   $ 20.616 kg        |         Palladium   $ 40303.53 kg        |         Platinum   $ 30972.89 kg        |         Rhodium   $ 131818.06 kg        |         Ruthenium   $ 14950.10 kg        |         Silver   $ 778.87 kg        |         Steel Rebar   $ 0.5063 kg        |         Tellurium   $ 73.354 kg        |         Tin   $ 25.497 kg        |         Uranium   $ 128.42 kg        |         Zinc   $ 2.3825 kg        |         
Image source: https://pixelied.com/

On February 8, 2024, the U.S. Department of State hosted the inaugural meeting of the Critical Minerals Dialogue (CMD) in the C5+1 format, chaired by Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Jose W. Fernandez.

The initiative to hold a dialogue on critical minerals was announced by the presidents of the United States, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan at the C5+1 Summit, which took place in New York in September 2023. The main objective of the CMD is to expand Central Asia’s participation in global supply chains of critical minerals, strengthen economic cooperation, promote a transition to clean energy, and protect the unique ecosystems of the region.

The United States commended the contributions of the five Central Asian countries in advancing new partnership opportunities and investment prospects, as well as their efforts to continue the dialogue through national coordinators within the framework of the C5+1. According to the press release, the prospects for cooperation were discussed within the context of the CMD, including the initiatives of the “Partnership for Mineral Resource Security” and “Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment.” The Central Asian representatives expressed their interest in attracting American investments in the development of critical minerals. However, experts from the Caspian Policy Center note that financing these initiatives on the scale of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) may pose challenges.

Countering China’s Dominance: Potential Threats to U.S. National Security

CMD is part of a broader U.S. strategy to counter China’s dominance in the supply chains of critical minerals. Essential minerals such as nickel, cobalt, palladium, and rare earth elements (REEs) are crucial for high-tech industries and defense systems. Critical minerals are also necessary for the transition to “green” technologies, as minerals like lithium, manganese, and chromium are vital components of renewable energy technologies.

As tensions between Washington and Beijing escalate, U.S. dependence on China for critical minerals increasingly becomes a strategic vulnerability. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, China currently controls nearly 60 percent of rare earth mining operations, over 85 percent of processing capabilities, and more than 90 percent of permanent magnet production, posing a potential threat to U.S. national security. In December 2023, Beijing had announced restrictions on the export of certain critical minerals, as well as mining and processing technologies. This export control raised concerns that China might use mineral resources as leverage in diplomatic discussions on security and the economy.

On February 14, U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm emphasized that she is “very concerned” about China’s control over the supply chain of critical mineral resources. The secretary stated that the United States will “collaborate with friends” to meet the growing demand for critical minerals.

In December 2023, the International Tax and Investment Center, a non-profit organization based in Washington, released a report titled “Leveraging Central Asia’s Rare Earth Elements for Economic Growth,” which analyzes the abundance of REEs in the region. Specifically, Central Asian countries hold 38.6 percent of global manganese ore reserves, 31 percent of chromium, 20 percent of lead, 12.6 percent of zinc, 8.7 percent of titanium, and significant reserves of other materials. China already has significant influence in the mining sectors of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, while Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan appear to be more open to Western public and private investment in this sector.

Central Asia’s Abundance of Critical Minerals and Investment Opportunities

From 2012 to 2018, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) conducted an inventory of mineral deposits throughout Central Asia. During that period, 384 occurrences of rare minerals were identified, including 160 in Kazakhstan, 87 in Uzbekistan, 75 in Kyrgyzstan, 60 in Tajikistan, and two in Turkmenistan. Currently, as part of a joint project between the State Committee of Geology of Uzbekistan and the USGS, a study of the country’s mineral resource reserves is being carried out, with a total funding of $2.3 million from the United States.

Special attention in the report is given to Kazakhstan, which possesses the largest reserves of known REEs in the region. Kazakhstan also holds the world’s largest reserves of chromium and the second-largest reserves of uranium, and it maintains strong positions in many other mining sectors. For instance, in 2020, Kazakhstan earned more revenue from copper exports than from natural gas exports for the first time.

In his address to the nation in September 2023, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev stated that the development of REE deposits should become a priority task, referring to these metals as the “new oil.” U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan Daniel Rosenblum has said he is confident that projects for the extraction and processing of critical materials involving American companies will soon emerge in the country.

The preservation of reliable access to these materials has become an integral part of the economic and national security of Western European countries. For example, Tokayev discussed the extraction of critical minerals with French President Emmanuel Macron during his visit to Kazakhstan in November 2023. Additionally, in June 2023, the U.S. Department of State held a similar dialogue with Mongolia, and in December 2023, France initiated an inaugural strategic dialogue on critical minerals with Australia.

Diversification of Transportation Routes and Energy Security in Central Asia

Regional integration projects aimed at reducing dependence on Russia will remain in the focus of the West, as these projects can also enhance Europe’s energy security through the diversification of supply routes. Transportation routes bypassing Russia and China are a necessary condition for Western investments, and the development of the Middle Corridor will be crucial for transporting essential minerals from Central Asian countries to global markets.

In 2023, Kazakhstan purchased two oil tankers to transport its oil to Europe through the Caspian Sea, bypassing Russia. However, this accounts for only 2 per cent of Kazakhstan’s exports, and it is expected that Kazakhstan’s dependence on Russian energy infrastructure for oil exports will remain high in the medium term. Nonetheless, this underscores Kazakhstan’s own geopolitical and economic interests in seeking new alliances and trade relations beyond its relationship with the Kremlin.

report by the Caspian Policy Center in 2022 recommended that the U.S. Geological Survey expand its work with Central Asian countries to help them harness their resource potential. Utilizing their experience in attracting private investments and facilitating cooperation between U.S. firms and Central Asia, the report emphasizes the necessity for Central Asian mineral development to mobilize private financing. It is expected that in the medium term, the United States will include technology transfer and technical assistance alongside funding for the development of critical mineral deposits. However, currently, the United States has not allocated funds to CMD or promised any investments.

In conclusion, the dialogue on critical minerals indicates the U.S. interest in enhancing the role of Central Asia in global supply chains for essential mineral resources. This initiative can serve as a catalyst for public-private partnerships that develop the mineral resource base of Central Asia and, thus, reduce U.S. dependence on China in technology manufacturing. The competition to gain control over critical mineral supply chains, which are essential for future industries, is intensifying. The outcome of this race in Central Asia’s nations, abundant in valuable resources, has the potential to shape the global balance of economic and technological power for many years ahead.