22 June 2023
AUKUS and critical minerals: hedging Beijing’s pervasive, clever and coordinated statecraft
AUKUS has a heavy focus on R&D of military capabilities. A number of departments, including defence, foreign affairs and prime ministerial equivalents are engaged. The science and technology to deliver those capabilities must resolve issues of insecure supply chains. Currently, supply chains for processed critical minerals and their resulting materials aren’t specifically included.
Yet all AUKUS capabilities, and the rules-based order that they uphold, depend heavily on critical minerals. China eclipses not only AUKUS for processing those minerals into usable forms, but the rest of the world combined. Without critical minerals, states are open to economic coercion in various technological industries, and defence manufacturing is particularly exposed to unnecessary supply-chain challenges.
This is where Australia comes in. Australia has the essential minerals, which are more readily exploitable because they’re located in less densely populated or ecologically sensitive areas. Australia also has the right expertise, including universities offering the appropriate advanced geoscience degrees, as well as advanced infrastructure, world-class resources technology and deep industry connections with Asia and Africa, which are also vital global sources of critical minerals.
This paper outlines why Australia offers an unrivalled rallying point to drive secure critical-mineral supply among a wide field of vested nations, using AUKUS but not limited to AUKUS partners, how WA has globally superior reserves and substantial expertise, and why northern Australia more generally has a key role to play. The paper also explains why policy action here must be prioritised by the Australian Government.