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 2016, proven reserves of iron ore in China had amounted to about 20.12 billion tons, ranking fourth in the world following Australia, Brazil and Russia. 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 approximately 3.62 billion tons of coal equivalent in 2015. 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. 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 foreign trade of mineral products reached a share of about 21 percent of China’s total foreign trade in 2015.