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Beijing — A group of Chinese firms have jointly established a rare-earths innovation centre in the country’s Hebei province as part of a plan to develop a manufacturing base in the region, according to the local government hosting the project.

The move comes amid speculation that China, the world’s dominant rare-earths producer, may use its control over supply of the group of 17 prized minerals — used in everything from consumer electronics to military equipment — as leverage in its trade conflict with the US...

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