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Report: US Defense Department aims to cut reliance on China's rare earths

The U.S. Defense Department is requesting new funding from the federal government in order to increase the production of rare earth minerals in the country and reduce reliance on China, Reuters reported.

"The department continues to work closely with the president, Congress and U.S. industry to improve U.S. competitiveness in the mineral market," Pentagon spokesman Mike Andrews reportedly told Reuters.

The funding request, which is part of a rare earth minerals report that has been sent to the White House, comes amid a reported threat from China that it could use its dominance in the said minerals as leverage in its trade dispute with the U.S.

China is the largest global supplier of rare earths, which are used in military equipment and consumer products such as iPhones. The country accounted for about 80% of U.S. rare earth imports from 2004 to 2017, Reuters said in its report.

A commentary published by Chinese state-run Xinhua News Agency and People's Daily, the official paper of the country's Communist Party, warned that Washington risks losing its rare earth supply in its ongoing trade conflict with Beijing.

"China has reiterated its stand in promoting multilateralism and tried to avoid a trade war that hurts public interests," the commentary said. "But if necessary, China has plenty of cards to play."

Global Times, which operates under People's Daily, also suggested in a May 29 editorial that a potential export ban on rare earths by China would be a "powerful weapon" to defend its interests.