Chinese internet trolls deployed to protect rare earths stranglehold
For the unsuspecting Facebook user in Texas, posts, along with the emergence of new groups on their feeds highlighting threats posed by a new rare earths separation plant, may appear legitimate.
Seemingly published by Texans, they flooded the social media platform after Australian rare earth miner, Lynas Resources (ASX: LYC), won a major U.S. Government grant to build a facility in Texas that will process rare earths from a massive mine in the west of Australia.
“My friends and I have been resisting the construction of a rare earth processing plant in Texas by Lynas. If nothing is done Lynas’ waste discharge will directly or indirectly affect the health of local residents, and this pollution is irreversible,” one Facebook post said.
On Twitter, similar posts have also emerged.
“#Lynas Biden made Americans blindly pay for it for his own benefit.”
But an investigation by leading U.S. cybersecurity firm, Mandiant, has revealed those posts and possibly thousands more across the world aimed at stifling the development of rare earth projects, are likely part of a major online foreign influence campaign led by the Chinese Government.
The revelations by Mandiant come 3 years after the firm first told its customers that it had identified a China-led influence campaign known as DRAGONBRIDGE.
Mandiant describes DRAGONBRIDGE as a network of thousands of inauthentic accounts across numerous social media platforms, websites, and forums that have promoted narratives supporting the political interests of China.
Mandiant has been closely monitoring the network ever since and it recently identified a pronounced change in tactics – all of sudden the network turned its attention to rare earth developments.
An extract from a Mandiant Research Intelligence report:
“We identified and investigated a subset of information operations activity we attribute to the DRAGONBRIDGE campaign across social media that targeted the Australian rare earths mining company, Lynas Rare Earths Ltd, with content criticizing its alleged environmental record and calling for protests of its planned construction of a rare earths processing facility in Texas.
“Subsequently in June, we observed additional DRAGONBRIDGE activity begin to target the Canadian rare earths mining company Appia Rare Earths & Uranium Corp and the American rare earths manufacturing company USA Rare Earth with negative messaging in response to potential or planned rare earths production activities involving those companies.”
Right now it’s not just Texan newsfeeds being flooded by foreign state actors, it’s happening wherever a rare earth project threatens China’s strategic stranglehold on the industry.
Cyberwar tactics come at critical juncture
China’s dirty cyber tricks demonstrate just how desperate the Government is to protect the nation’s strategically important rare earths industry.
The country accounts for well over half of the world’s rare earth oxide and metals production, but as U.S., Australian and Southeast Asian companies develop mines and processing facilities, China’s dominance is diminishing.
The Stockholm Environment Institute published a research paper in 2014 titled, The geopolitics of China’s rare earths: a glimpse of things to come in a resource-scarce world?
It highlights why the industry is so important for China.
“Rare earth minerals have become a strategic resource. Although they are unfamiliar to many, rare earths are essential in a range of common electronic applications and clean and green technologies.
“From a geopolitical point of view, the case of REMs is typical of critical resource sharing. The limited supply of REMs puts net exporters in a strong negotiating position compared to net importers. As this imbalance has grown, states have become increasingly important actors in REM trade issues. China, as the pre-eminent exporter, is seeking to maximize economic gain for its industry and minimize costs.“
China’s former leader Deng Xiaoping is reported to have said in 1992, “While the Middle East has oil, China dominates rare earths.”
Over the past few decades, China has been doing all it can to maintain its stranglehold on rare earths.
It imposed a ban on rare earth exports to Japan in 2010. It has also introduced numerous policies that limit rare earths exports.
Now in 2022, it appears the DRANGONBRIDGE network is China’s latest weapon. But officals may not have been counting on Mandiant exposing the deception.