The latest such asset acquirer was Tianqi Lithium, based in the Sichuan provincial capital of Chengdu, which paid US$4.1 billion in May to buy 24 per cent of Chile’s Sociedad Química y Minera (SQM), the world’s second-biggest producer of lithium.
Combined with other technological inroads, innovations and improvements made into the global supply chain of lithium-ion batteries, the acquisitions have propelled China to surpass South Korea to become the world’s largest supplier of lithium batteries.
“China is the largest global consumer of lithium,” said Zhao. “Further down the road, we believe China’s EV development will drastically tighten the global lithium balance.”
The trend continues. Jiangxi Ganfeng Lithium, one of China’s largest producers of the battery metal, is seeking a US$1 billion initial public offering (IPO) in Hong Kong to raise funds toward the development of a mining project in Argentina.
Chemphys Chengdu Chemical Industry has become the biggest shareholder of Canada’s NRG Metals after a US$1.4 million private placement, whereby the Chinese company committed to an offtake agreement on all potential future production of lithium from the Hombre Muerto North project in Argentina.
Chinese companies are scouring the world’s mines for lithium, cobalt and other minerals that go into battery packs used in electric vehicles, resuming the kind of voracious hunt for resources that added to economic booms in exporting countries a decade earlier.
They were the first to get off the starting block in getting their hands on these vital minerals, crucial for China’s ambition to lead the world in the production and use of electric and new energy vehicles, where up to 2 million units are expected to ply the nation’s streets by 2020, according to government forecast.
China Molybdenum, a partly state-owned producer of the chemical element, paid US$2.65 billion in 2016 for the Tenke Fungurume Mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the world’s largest known reserves of copper and cobalt resources.
GEM Co, a Shenzhen-based recycler of urban electronic waste, bought a third of the total cobalt output by Glencore Plc, the world’s biggest producer of the metal over the next three years, according to a March filing to the local stock exchange.
“Over the past couple of years, we have seen evidence in the automotive industry where Chinese companies have been acquiring foreign assets across both original equipment manufacturing (OEM), components as well as mining,” said JPMorgan Chase & Co’s analyst Nick Lai, in the bank’s 2025 EV Outlook report. “Our view is that vertical integration in the auto industry is not unusual. Many global OEMs have investments or equity stakes in key components.”