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Is China's Lithium Quest Fuelled by Business or Politics?

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Lithium has been dubbed “white gold," and the highly coveted resource has seen its value increase more than fourfold in the past year.

Credit: Perry Tse

Just days after Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez signed his country up for China's Belt and Road Initiative during a high-profile trip to Beijing this month, the spot price of lithium metal in the Chinese market reached 2 million yuan (US$315,000) per tonne for the first time – more than four times what it cost a year ago.

The two countries happen to be the world's major players in the supply chain of the metal – an essential material used in electric vehicle (EV) batteries.

Argentina is located in a region with the highest concentrations of the mineral – South America's so-called Lithium Triangle, which contains more than half of the world's reserves – while Chinese companies are the biggest buyers and investors of lithium mines around the globe and refine two-thirds of the world's lithium.

As major economies are all aiming to shift to electric cars in the global fight against climate change, the silvery-white alkali metal has been increasingly called "the new oil" and "white gold".

And the fact that China and Argentina are forging closer ties has touched a nerve among Western countries, which have vowed to reduce their dependence on lithium from China.

From South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)
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