The moves have prompted complaints from foreign high-tech producers, while the US and Australia have responded by developing or reopening mines shuttered when cheaper Chinese supplies became available.
Several kilometers from the massive dumping ground is the privately owned Baotou City Hong Tianyu Rare Earths Factory — one of dozens of operators processing rare earths, iron and coal in a dusty no-man’s land.
Workers wearing blue uniforms and army camouflage runners inhale toxic fumes as huge spinning steel pipes process tonnes of rare earths bound for high-tech manufacturers in China, Japan, the US and elsewhere.
A production manager surnamed Wang told reporters the factory produces “several thousand tonnes of rare earths a year” and the toxic waste is piped to another dumping ground in the area.
The desolate fields around Wang’s village have been left fallow as farmers wait for government compensation. Some appear to have fled already, with empty houses and shops along dusty roads falling into disrepair.
Authorities have offered to pay farmers 60,000 yuan per mu (US$9,200 per 0.067 hectares) so they can move to a new village 4km away. However, they won’t have land to till and the farmers say the compensation is inadequate.
“People like us can only cultivate the land and raise animals. If we don’t have a regular job, where will our income come from, how will we live?” asked Wang Tao, his brown face creased with worry.