Thursday, September 23, 2010

China blocks rare earths exports to Japan


Rare earths, of which China controls 95 percent of all trade, are essential for the making of many electronic products.

BEIJING — China has blocked all exports of rare earths to Japan, stepping up the pressure on Tokyo to release a Chinese boat captain detained in disputed waters, a report said Thursday.

China has halted all shipments to Japan of the chemical elements, essential for the making of mp3 players, electric cars, missiles and a range of other products, the New York Times reported, citing unnamed industry sources.

Calls to China’s commerce and foreign ministries for comment on the report went unanswered.

Japan’s foreign ministry and the world’s top automaker Toyota — one of many companies that would be affected by the move — also did not answer calls.

Japan and China are embroiled in their worst diplomatic row in years, sparked by the captain’s arrest following the September 7 collision of his trawler with two Japanese coastguard vessels in the East China Sea....

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao this week threatened “further actions” if the captain was not released. Beijing has already suspended high-level contacts with Tokyo and called off several official visits.

China supplies at least 95 percent of the world’s rare earths. It had previously cut its export limit for the minerals, sending market prices soaring and sparking concerns among foreign governments and companies.

Last month, before the row erupted, Japan had urged China to expand, not restrict, its exports of rare earths.....

Market prices of some types of rare earth metal have soared more than 20 percent since China announced in July that it planned to reduce global shipments.

Previous media reports said the country was considering even banning the export of certain elements and closing mines, which foreign companies and governments fear will deny them access to the much-needed metals and force manufacturers to shift their plants to China.

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