Japan and China in feud over rare earth shipments

Rare Earth

China has stopped rare earth shipments to Japan. Rare earth elements, like these pictured, have a multitude of industrial applications. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Japan and China have become embroiled in a feud over the shipment of rare earth minerals. Rare earth minerals are typically ores that contain metals called “rare earth elements.” Japan imports most raw materials for use in manufacturing, and the largest supplier of rare earth materials is China. Chinese officials have insisted that reduced shipment of rare earth material is not an embargo.

China slows shipment of rare earth

China has large deposits of rare earth materials and does the bulk of the world’s rare earth mining. China is also the chief world supplier of rare earth materials, providing about 97 percent of world output annually, according to ABC. Recently, Japanese officials announced that shipments of rare earth from China have stopped. Rare earth metals, or rare earth elements on the periodic table, can be used for a wide variety of things but find most applications in manufacturing. Rare earth magnets are known for their incredible potency. Chinese suppliers are insisting that no embargo exists, but the shipments are being held up by customs officials and are waiting to be shipped.

Rumor of embargo follows fishing brouhaha

An incident involving a fishing boat is rumored to have instigated an embargo on rare earth. Several weeks ago, a Chinese fishing boat ran into a Japanese Coast Guard vessel, and the Chinese boat captain was detained. Though he was quickly released, Japanese officials claim that was when the shipments stopped, according to Bloomberg. China is rumored by some to be using the virtual monopoly it has on the metals to extort foreign countries for profit, but Chinese officials insist that is not the case. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao recently stated that cutting back on shipments was not anywhere close to an embargo.

Regulation may be the culprit

In 2006, China passed an initiative aimed at reducing pollution from mining. Extraction of rare earth metals is often a labor intensive process resulting in small amounts being extracted from large amounts of ore.




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