North Korea advertised today that it has huge stocks of Rare Earth Elements (REEs) on its foreign publicity website “Today Choson.”
REEs are seventeen different chemical elements that are used in various modern technologies. They are sometimes called the vitamins of the hi-tech industry because they are used in numerous important industries, including green technology, defense systems, consumer electronics, and cutting-edge products such as semiconductors and smartphones.
Although REEs are relatively plentiful, their processing is labor intensive and ecologically damaging. That’s why most developed countries have stopped mining REEs.
However, an official working at North Korea’s Mining Development Trading Corporation reported that it has discovered that REEs are plentiful across North Korea, and the potential is enormous. He estimated North Korea’s Rare Earth Elements at 216 million tons, saying “it is overwhelming remembering that an Australian researcher released an initial assessment last year claiming that the deposit holds 140,000 tons of REEs.”
North Korea exported massive amounts of rare earth elements (REEs) to China last year. According to a report published by the Korea International Trade Association, Pyongyang in 2014 exported 62,662 kilograms of REEs to China for US$1.8 million, which is one and a half times more than in 2013. President of the Seoul-based North Korea Resources Institute Choi Kyung-soo says, “They seemed to be primarily operating REE concentrate.”
Increasing REE exports can be a surefire way for Pyongyang to stimulate the national economy. Unlike other financial activities which are heavily restricted in N. Korea, North Korea’s mining sector is not under sanction. Its trade in natural resources is legal and easily receive payments for its exports. Recently, the only legitimate way for North Korea to make money is by selling minerals.
A Russian expert on North Korea also said, “Selling mineral resources abroad doesn’t necessarily require any politically risky changes to the North Korean system. While they don’t want any structural or institutional reforms, the export of natural resources is the perfect way for the North Korean government to exist for decades without changing anything.”
Though North Korea lacks proper skills to discover and extract its natural resources, remaining technologically backwards, China and Russia are investing in its industry. And now, it seems that the North eagerly courts foreign investors by advertising its amount of REEs.