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A tell-tale sign that China could be preparing for war

A telling similarity has been noticed between what Germany was doing before it invaded Poland in September 1939 and what China is doing now – stockpiling resources and raw materials. In the eastern Chinese port of Dongying, the start of 2024 has often seen several tankers docked simultaneously discharging Russian crude oil into a new 31.5 million barrel storage facility completed late last year, Reuters had reported in April. Traders said it was all part of a concerted and deliberate Chinese effort to build up strategic stockpiles for a perhaps uncertain future.

In a piece for international affairs and conflict blogging site “War on the Rocks” published April 17, Mike Studeman, former commander of the US Office of Naval Intelligence and intelligence and director of the US Indo-Pacific Command, argued that this was part of a much wider process. “Xi Jinping is preparing his country for a showdown,” he wrote, describing the Chinese leader as “militarising Chinese society and steeling his country for a potential high-intensity war.”

Part of that, he suggested, included building up strategic stockpiles of essential goods and resources, protecting China against the kind of sanctions imposed on Russia after its Ukraine invasion – or, indeed, a militarily enforced blockade as part of a regional or global war.

Now more experts think China is stockpiling resources and raw materials to prepare itself for a war, most likely an invasion of Taiwan which can embroil it into a long-drawn war.

The unusual stockpiling

The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), which was created by the United States Congress, conducted a hearing this month during which experts pointed at China’s unusual stockpiling activities.

The Chinese central government stockpiling minerals is one potential indicator that it may be preparing to invade Taiwan, a report by the USCC said. The National Food and Strategic Reserves Administration oversees China’s stockpile, which reportedly contains large volumes of minerals like aluminum, cobalt, and copper. Three specific indicators that China may be stockpiling for strategic reasons, like an invasion of Taiwan, are (1) stockpiling when domestic mineral producers do not face profitability issues, (2) high apparent mineral consumption relative to real mineral consumption, and (3) spiking mineral imports. Indicators 2 and 3 also assess Germany’s mineral stockpiling activities before it invaded Poland in September 1939.

China does not disclose the list and quantity of minerals stockpiled, but its stockpile reportedly includes aluminum, antimony, cadmium, cobalt, copper, gallium, germanium, indium, molybdenum, rare earth elements, tantalum, tin, tungsten, zinc, and zirconium, the report said.

Parallels with World War II and the Cold War

The USCC report has drawn parallels between China’s stockpiling activity and that of Germany and Japan during World War II as well as with Russia’s during the Cold War.

Germany stockpiled significant copper volumes in 1938 and 1939, and when it invaded Poland in September 1939, Germany had enough copper stocks to cover almost nine months of estimated wartime consumption, the report said.

Similarly, Japan began stockpiling minerals like tin after 1936, and when it launched attacks across the Pacific in December 1941, it had accumulated significant mineral stockpiles, including enough bauxite stocks to cover nine months of Japanese demand at 1941 consumption levels.

During the Cold War too, mineral stockpiling by the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact states was an indicator of possible preparation for a military attack. In 1979, the RAND Corporation said that the Soviet Union’s preparation for war could include mineral stockpiling by both the military and industry, as well as spiking mineral imports.

The report says that along with monitoring China’s mineral stockpiling, other mineral-related indicators should also be monitored to better inform whether China is preparing to invade Taiwan.