China Vows to Keep Supplying Rare-Earth Metals to World, South Korea Says
China pledged to supply Japan and other countries with rare-earth metals, sales of which were reportedly disrupted last month during a territorial dispute that soured relations between Asia’s two largest economies.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao made the vow during a trilateral meeting with counterparts from Japan and South Korea, Kim Hee Jung, a spokeswoman for South Korean President Lee Myung Bak, told reporters today in Hanoi. All three are attending meetings in Vietnam hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Wen said “China will continue to supply rare earths to the international community,” Kim told reporters after the meeting. Wen said “China will work with major buyers in expanding the source of rare earths and developing alternative minerals,” according to Kim.
The vow comes as Japan surveys its companies to see if China has resumed shipments of rare earth minerals, which are used in hybrid cars, batteries and missiles. China yesterday ended an unannounced embargo on exports of rare earths to the U.S., Europe and Japan, New York Times reported, citing four industry officials it didn’t identify.
“As of yesterday, there is no information about new cargo movements,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku told reporters in Tokyo. “The Japanese government intends to use every opportunity to ask China to improve the situation regarding export restrictions.”
China had blocked exports to Japan since Sept. 21, and to the U.S. and Europe on Oct. 18, the New York Times said. China’s customs bureau today denied cutting off outbound shipments of rare earths, a group of 17 chemically similar metallic elements including cerium and europium.
China has been reviewing export licenses and other paperwork for rare-earth shipments, according to a statement read by an official in the bureau’s news office who declined to be identified. China in July said it was cutting export quotas for rare earths by 72 percent for the second half of the year.
Japan urged China today to maintain exports of rare earths at the same level as last year, Japanese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Satoru Sato told reporters in Hanoi. China controls more than 90 percent of world supply, leading Japan, the U.S. and Germany to seek new supplies.
“Vietnam is one of the potential producers of rare earths, so we are interested in talking with Vietnam together with other potential suppliers in order to diversify our source of supply of rare earth minerals,” Sato said.
Prices of rare earths have climbed as much as sevenfold in the past six months. Greenwood, Colorado-based Molycorp Inc. and Sydney-based Lynas Corp. plan to open rare-earth mines in the U.S. and Australia in the next two years.
China’s Commerce Minister on Oct. 20 pledged to maintain supplies of rare earths and denied suggestions there was an embargo on shipments.
The export cuts are related to environmental and conservation efforts, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told his Japanese counterpart Seiji Maehara today in Hanoi, according to Japan’s Deputy Press Secretary Noriyuki Shikata.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who is attempting to set up a meeting with Wen while he’s in Hanoi, set aside funds to find new sources of the metals in a stimulus plan announced earlier this month.
Yoji Sato, executive vice president of Tokyo-based Sojitz Corp., a trading company, said disruptions are continuing and the company is looking to diversify its sources of rare earths. The company plans to begin importing them from Vietnam starting in 2012.
“We understand that matters dealing with shipping still aren’t going smoothly in China,” Sato said. “We do believe that the delay in exports will eventually be cleared.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Oct. 27 called on China to clarify its policy on rare-earth minerals following the reports of export curbs. The issue may arise when President Barack Obama meets Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao on Nov. 11 at the start of a meeting of Group of 20 leaders, said Jeff Bader, senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council.
Chinese foreign ministry officials have repeatedly said they hope to improve ties with Japan after a ship collision in disputed waters sparked a diplomatic stand-off. Japan detained the Chinese captain of a fishing boat for two weeks after it collided with Coast Guard vessels on Sept. 7, near islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
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