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Natural Resources in China - Statistics & Facts

Primary resources, also known as natural resources, occur naturally and are derived from the environment in order to process them. Apart from resources such as water, air, sunlight, forest area or agricultural land, which exist as separate entities, other resources such as metals, ores and primary energy resources have to be extracted from the soil manually to make them usable. Their value is predominantly determined by the relative scarcity of the resource in combination with its exploitability for industrial use. In modern industry, most natural resources are used as raw materials from which upstream materials and finished products are produced. As primary resources for energy and industrial production, they are a vital requirement of any economic activity.

With a total surface area of approximately 9.6 million square kilometers, China has large land resources and possesses strategic shares in various mineral resources. Due to its geologic preconditions, China has proved reserves of nearly all major minerals. As of 2018, proven reserves of iron ore in China had amounted to about 85.22 billion tons. But due to the low quality of its iron ore reserves, the consumption of iron ore in China still heavily relies on iron ore imports.

The domestic economy in China is largely based on energy-intensive heavy industrial production. In order to maintain its growth momentum, the country has subsequently increased its primary energy production to over 3.5 billion tons of coal equivalent in the last few years. China’s north-western regions such as Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang, the so-called Chinese coal belt, not only hold large reserves of coal but also petroleum and natural gas reserves.

China was the dominant producer of rare earths in the world. Rare earths have received heightened attention from international industries due to their applicability in different industries, among them the production of LED monitors, batteries and illuminants. In order to avoid over-exploitation, Chinese government had set strict export limits for rare earth exports since 2009, which lead to a significant decrease in rare earth exports from over 50,000 tons in 2009 to about 30,000 tons in the following years. However, export quotas were scrapped again after China lost a World Trade Organization case brought by its trading partners over controls that alarmed global technology producers.

Most natural resources only occur in geographically limited areas and become scarcer over time through depletion of reservoirs. Many countries based their economies on the export of natural resources, thus also facilitating global resource allocation through international trade. In China, the operating revenue of the non-ferrous metal industry peaked over six trillion yuan in 2016 and 2017, and dropped slightly subsequently.

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Natural resources in China

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