The iPad and the iPhone must be made in China. Ditto for, well, most everything. And it’s not only because of cheap Chinese labour. Or sprawling factories. Or lax regulations. Those are reasons, but there’s another one. And it’s one you might not expect: mud.
The iPad — like other electronics — requires a large amount of rare earth elements mined from mineral rich sludge and mud. As website Mother Board pointed out, China controls 95 to 97 per cent of the world’s supply of rare earths.
Rare earth materials are used in lithium-ion batteries, displays to produce different colours and magnets — not to mention glass and polishes.
This is real concern that China controlling the world’s rare earths is very bad thing. US President Obama filed a complaint with the World Trade organisation against China over it and earlier this year, two companies (one in California and one in Austria) began mining for rare earth materials. Worrying is that the US Defense Department doesn’t seem to realise how important rare earths are for national defence.
But with companies like Foxconn making, well, everything, efforts like this might be too late. Plus, you know how foreign companies can sidestep China’s rare earth export quotas? Why by moving their plants to China and manufacturing there. Just like Apple did.
Image: Kin Cheung/AP.