North Korea May Be Standing on a Rare Earth Metals Goldmine

North Korea May Be Standing on a Rare Earth Metals Goldmine

It was news that slipped under the radar this week, but if true, possibly one of the largest game changers regarding the Korean Peninsula in some time. The Korea Times and Leonid Petrov have more details:

In fact, North Korea is sitting on the goldmine. The northern side of the Korean Peninsula is well known for its rocky terrain with 85 percent of the country composed of mountains. It hosts sizeable deposits of more than 200 different minerals, of which deposits of coal, iron ore, magnesite, gold ore, zinc ore, copper ore, limestone, molybdenum, and graphite are the largest and have the potential for the development of large-scale mines. After China, North Korea’s magnesite reserves are the second largest in the world, and its tungsten deposits are almost the sixth largest in the world. Still the value of all these resources pales in comparison to prospects that promise the exploration and export of rare earth metals.

Rare earth metals are a group of 17 elements that are found in the earth’s crust. They are essential in the manufacture of high-tech products and in green technologies, such as wind turbines, solar panels or hybrid cars. Known as “the vitamins of high-tech industries,” REMs are minerals necessary for making everything that we use on a daily basis, like smartphones, LCDs, and notebook computers. Some rare earth metals such as cerium and neodymium are crucial elements in semiconductors, cars, computers and other advanced technological areas. Other types of REMs can be used to build tanks and airplanes, missiles and lasers.

South Korea estimates the total value of the North’s mineral deposits at more than $6 trillion. Not surprisingly, despite high political and security tensions Seoul is showing a growing interest in developing REMs together with Pyongyang. In 2011, after receiving permission from the Ministry of Unification, officials from the Korea Resources Corp. visited North Korea twice to study the condition of a graphite mine. Together with their counterparts from the DPRK’s National Economic Cooperation Federation they had working-level talks at the Gaeseong Industrial Complex on jointly digging up REMs in North Korea. An analysis of samples obtained in North Korea showed that the type of rare earth metals could be useful for manufacturing LCD panels and optical lenses. (Read More: The Korea Times)

It’s likely that, beyond China’s recent meetings with North Korea to access the stability of Kim Jong-Un’s regime, China is also busy wheeling and dealing to freeze out South Korea and any other nations looking to secure options other than the world’s first largest source of rare earth metals (China). If this data pans out, there will be some SERIOUS political machinations as China vies to maintain their dominance in the industry, while South Korea and its Western Allies seek to open up North Korea, potentially alleviating their dependence on Chinese rare earth metals.

From the North Korean standpoint, this would also solidify Kim Jong-Un’s power, offering his people an economic bounty that would bring North Korea back to Kim Il-Sung’s best years, and perhaps far beyond. Japan, South Korea, and the United States would certainly have to approach the DPRK with far less of a deck stacked in their favor.

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Craig was born & raised in the United States, having recently returned there after over five years in Asia. He is currently pursuing further education in the realms of East Asian Studies and Politics. Craig is an avid fan of the political, economic, and military machinations occurring throughout the Asian continent and how those turning gears affect the rest of the world. He's currently covering both North and South Korea for Asia Security Watch, enjoying shedding light on to this far-too-often ignored slice of Asia.
Craig Scanlan has 88 post(s) on New Pacific Institute