China produces some 95% of rare earths but controls less than half of the global resource base. The country achieved this dominant position by lowering prices. Attractive pricing and the ability to avoid environmental consequences associated with mining and processing rare earths essentially prompted other countries to cede such operations to China.
The relationship between the two economic juggernauts cannot exactly be characterized as free trade nirvana, and there is a growing sentiment in the United States that China has not fully lived up to the commitments it made when joining the WTO. This is fueled in no small part by concern over the massive trade surplus China has built up with the United States, its largest trading partner. By deliberately undervaluing its currency, critics charge, China has propped up its export-dependent growth model.