US demand for Aussie minerals to outlast next president

Reassuring mining bosses, a former intelligence chief says there is bipartisan backing in the United States to stand firm with Australia against China.

Former director of national intelligence under Barack Obama, retired US Admiral Dennis Blair, said on Wednesday the sovereign supply chain response to "Chinese bullying" would survive a switch to a Republican administration.

Mining industry and investors at the annual Minerals Week summit in Canberra fear President Joe Biden's signature climate and clean energy laws might not survive the 2024 presidential election.

A Republican win could mean a winding back of generous tax credits, loans and grants and a return to American isolationism.

But defence and security pacts, including secure supplies of Australia's rare earths that are vital for defence technologies, are less at risk.

The leading producer of rare earths outside China, Australia's Lynas Rare Earths, has a direct stake in the security environment with a pact with US defence to process materials at a plant being developed in Texas.

"Our company is very fortunate to be in the midst of some Australia-US supply chain security initiatives," CEO Amanda Lacaze said.

Quizzed about a possible change of US president, Admiral Blair said there was a "consistency in American policy that will enable us to be able to sustain programs".

"It's really a bipartisan consensus that the United States has to take action to deal with the Chinese challenge," he said.

He said Republicans and Democrats were working together in a special committee on Capitol Hill in a way he had not seen since the darkest days of the Cold War.

"We have really changed focus since the days after 9/11 when the war on terrorism was such an exclusive and all-consuming set of policies," he said.

The "three important countries" - the US, Japan and Australia - had a strong history of working together and the resources and technology that would make the difference between success and failure, Admiral Blair said.

But he warned allies to be mindful that China had not given up on efforts to "undermine Australia".

"Even today it supports organisations that protest Australian minerals mining and processing projects, both in Australia and in other countries and supply chains," he said.

Asked about the weaponisation of supply chains, South Korea's ambassador to Australia Wan-joong Kim said his country was also committed to building alternative sources.

He said South Korea, like Australia, was "vulnerable" because of a dependence on foreign trade, and would work with countries who shared common values on democracy and human rights.

The two countries are "on the right track" to creating "resilient and sustainable supply chains", he said.

Australia's leading lithium producer Pilbara Minerals has a joint venture with Korean conglomerate POSCO for a chemical facility in Gwangyang.

Japan is also on the hunt for critical minerals, including supplies of nickel.

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