Eye Opening Trip To Asia
By: William York
I dealt with jetlag and stomach pain, but I learned more about one sociopolitical group than I thought I could ever dream to in my recent travels. As a student studying Asian culture, politics, and economics I have prided myself on knowing so much, yet I now realize the magnitude of Asia and the magnitude that no matter your understanding of a place, you must go there to truly understand it. Even with that you will never master something. Singapore, the crossroads of Asia; truly a worthy title and a breathtakingly beautiful place. This small city-state is a true melting pot of cultures in the form of food, language, and religion. From the back ally restaurants of Little India, the ritzy shopping centers of Bay Sands, or the authentic food and smells of Little China, Singapore remains to be one of the best life experiences.
Yet besides the sites and sounds, I came to Singapore for the purpose to further my studies in understanding Rare Earth’s politics and policy with conjunction in working toward job prospects for after graduation. The 10th Rare Earth Conference is a meeting with leaders in all fields from mining, finance, politics, and environmental protection. It takes a melding of minds to answer the question, “How does the world deal with China and their current ownership of 90% of the world’s supply,” with conjunction, “how do we get the world to notice the importance of these resources”.
First, I would like to address what “Rare Earths” are. Simply, Rare Earths are seventeen different elements. These elements gain their name as “Rare” due to the product they are used in. These elements are used a majority of the time in products such as electronic components in your laptop or cell phone in the conductors and batteries. They are also used in nuclear reactors, solar panels, wind turbines, high strength carbon metals and polishing reagents. Without these elements, we would not be able to have smaller and more powerful electronics or handle the development of green energy sources. Thus, these little-known resources of the 20th and 21st centuries could be noted as a more important resource than petroleum.
In understanding the importance of these resources, you must also understand the policy points of these resources and where my SPIA education has given me such as great step up. Currently, China’s companies control 90% of the Rare Earths, either in mining operation or holdings within country, or in Central Asia and southern Africa. In 2011, China, angered by Japanese actions, placed an embargo on Rare Earth trade with Japan. China would lift the embargo after just one day, but provided the proof of their control of these resources. Since 2011, the international community has been extremely worried, which has created a very volatile marketplace for the buying and selling of Rare Earths. The United States, European Union, and Japan have set standards in place to prevent this from ever happening with respect to security plans to maintain world supplies of Rare Earths.
During this conference I was inclined to talk to leaders in both policy and finance and ask them their thoughts on the current issues. Talking with leaders from Germany, Japan, the United States, and China I had the ability to not only learn about their opinions and issues, but also show my understanding of the issues and show my opinions on what policy points could bring the security of these resources together without infringing on China’s national pride. One of the speakers from the United States gave an overview on China’s national policy on Rare Earths. During lunch I was lucky enough to sit next to him and a gathering of business leaders from China. I made a note that during his presentation he made an error in not making note that Afghanistan did not border China. He then proceeded to argue with me telling me it did not. Thus, I brought up a map showing him the Wakhan Corridor, the boarder, and then went on to tell him how China is currently investing $30 billion in resource extraction projects, and told him of a great piece in the “Economist” about this story. His jaw dropped, and with a large smile he said, “Where did you learn this? How do you know this?” I told him about SPIA, and he shock his head in pride that a little state school could produce such knowledgeable students that could speak up. After a few minutes he excused himself, but not before giving me his business card. The next event was what brought everything together. One of the China’s business leaders at our table looked at me and bowed. He told me in a soft voice, “What you said young man was correct. For you to speak with such confidence is a tribute of good mentors.” His team then all bowed their heads. It was an inspiring experience.
In closing, the School of Policy and International Affairs at the University of Maine is a world-class program. Having professors that always ask for more but always give a helping hand to learn and to understand is paramount. With examples like having a professional like Captain Settele drill into our heads with military precision, our program only produces people of the highest caliber who will lead in any project they want to be a part of. With representatives in the Cohan Group, Mercy Corp, United Nations, FBI, and many more we have some of the most qualified students and I am proud to be one of them.