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China’s Latin American Gold Rush is All About Clean Energy

A new gold rush is underway in Latin America—only this time around, the bounty is white. With its sprawling salt flats, the region is rich with a new ore—lithium—and everyone from Germany to China is clambering to get in on the race.

White gold, or lithium, is a coveted critical mineral that is key to making the batteries that drive the energy transition. Some 60 percent of the world’s lithium reserves can be found in the so-called lithium triangle, a region that encompasses Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia. It’s not just lithium either: Peru and Chile are the world’s two largest copper producers, while Brazil is home to 17 percent of all nickel reserves.

“Latin America is front and center in the race for minerals,” said Ryan Berg, director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It’s just about every single mineral you need to power the modern infrastructure, the green infrastructure that we’re going to need.”

That has sparked a global scramble to tap the region’s wealth—one in which Chinese companies have an edge. For decades, Beijing has rapidly ramped up its trade and investment in the region, entrenching its economic ties and influence there while the United States’ attention wandered. A growing number of Chinese projects in Latin America now center around the clean energy sector, part of what experts say is emblematic of a broader shift, as Beijing scales back its big-bore lending and zeroes in on what it sees as the prize.

“We’ve all known that renewable energy would eventually get the momentum necessary to pick up speed and really dominate the investment horizon,” said Rebecca Ray, an international development finance expert at Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center. “And we’re beginning to see that pivot in the [China-Latin America] relationship, where it goes from potential to reality.”’

Source : Foreign Policy