Mandiant, an American cybersecurity firm, has produced a study claiming that a Chinese regime-sponsored propaganda operation targets miners in the United States, Australia, and Canada via social media accounts. The accounts formed alliances to offer China a competitive advantage in hunting for rare earth resources.
Mandiant discovered that a Chinese regime-led online group called “Dragonbridge” recently targeted Western rare earth corporations for attacks. Those targeted include “Lynas Rare Earths” of Australia, “USA Rare Earth” of the United States, “Appia Rare Earths,” and “Uranium Corp” of Canada.
In early June, the U.S. Department of Defense inked a $120 million contract with Lynas Rare Earth to build the country’s first heavy rare earth separation plants. Many observers say Lynas is the world’s largest rare earth processor outside of China, which is a response to China’s dominance in the critical rare earth market.
Mandiant later discovered many negative comments on the Internet criticizing Lynas’ poor environmental performance, calling for the rest of the world to protest the factory’s location in Texas, and several accounts even pretended to be Texas residents expressing concern. Still, the source of the accounts is in China.
The fake accounts failed to organize actual protests. However, they purported to be successful by uploading photographs of earlier, unrelated protests in Malaysia.
Appia Rare Earth and Uranium Corp, two Canadian firms, have only produced encouraging rare earth drilling findings in Saskatchewan.
However, multiple Twitter accounts from “Dragonbridge” have lashed out to incite public anger. Since June of this year, the stock price of Appia has fallen. The company cannot tell if the posts are dragging down stock values, but it advises investors to review papers produced by governments and companies rather than rely on random pieces online.
According to Mandiant’s analysis, fictitious people’s social media accounts became more active in June after two Canadian corporations announced new mining intentions.
Some of the posts specifically criticized U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s March decision to trigger legislation aimed at limiting the U.S.’s reliance on Chinese minerals.
“Dragonbridge’s targeting of the rare earth industry broadly, and Lynas, Appia, and USA Rare Earth specifically, demonstrates an interest in industries of strategic importance to the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) that we had not previously observed from the campaign.”
Mandiant noted in the report’s final section, “Given Chinese President Xi Jinping’s continued emphasis on a broad, holistic understanding of PRC national security that encompasses areas including information and resource security. We may see other global competitors to PRC firms in other industries targeted by such information operations.”
According to RFA, which quotes Hao Jun, an asset manager at a Canadian financial institution, this form of fake news has been circulating on the Internet for a long time. Rare earths have strategic value and serve as a battleground for military planners. According to Hao Jun: “There are numerous raw materials and minerals, but rare earths are rarer and have a higher value than other raw materials. It is not just tied to economic value, but also to geopolitical or government strife.”
Mandiant vice president John Hultquist stated that the company had been watching the operation of Dragonbridge. This Chinese group attempted to undercut democracy supporters in Hong Kong in 2019 and had recently targeted spending on Western corporations. “Right now, if you’re a firm, you probably have to worry about a well-resourced person spreading misinformation and attempting to undermine your image,” Hultquist adds. “It’s a completely new threat.”
Mastering essential mineral resources become ever more vital as the world changes to cleaner energy and more modern technology. China controls 85% of the world’s supply of rare earths, which Western countries aim to change.
Last week, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen visited Canada to examine the security of major mineral supply chains in North America with Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Chrystia Freeland.
According to Freeland, Canada possesses a significant and unique resource that provides a huge opportunity for the Canadian economy while ensuring strong support for allies.
She stated, “What we can really contribute in a world of friendly sharing is critical minerals and metals, and energy. And right now, this kind of epiphany that Putin has really driven home, but people were starting to think about before then, is that the world’s democracies do not want to depend on Russia and China for the critical minerals and metals it takes to build electric batteries or semiconductors or to power nuclear reactors or to create fertilizer or even for sources of energy. That is just not safe anymore and the Europeans really get that.”
Canada produces over 60 minerals and metals, has over 200 mines, and is home to roughly half of all listed mineral exploration and mining businesses worldwide. In addition, Ottawa is working on a Critical Minerals Strategy for release in the fall.
Federal Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson admitted that Canada and other Western countries had overestimated China over the years, assuming that the country would become more cooperative on trade when, in fact, the opposite is true.
“The idea that somehow China would become more engaged and more respectful of the rules of the international community, that has not happened.” Wilkinson stated.