Fri, Oct 29, 2010 - Page 10 News List

Rare earths not a ‘bargaining tool,’ China says


China will not use its exports of rare earths as a “bargaining tool” with other governments and wants international cooperation in the use of the materials, which are crucial for advanced manufacturing, a government spokesman said yesterday.

China alarmed industrial users of rare earths — exotic minerals required to make mobile phones and other high-tech goods — with a de facto ban last month on shipments to Japan as a squabble unfolded over disputed islands.

“China will not use rare earths as a bargaining tool,” a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, Zhu Hongren (朱宏任), said at a news conference. “Rather, on the basis of cooperation, development and a win-win outcome, we will have cooperation with other countries in the use of rare earths, because it is a nonrenewable energy resource.”

Zhu did not answer a reporter’s question about when normal exports of rare earths would resume.

Rare earths — a group of 17 elements — are used in high-tech products ranging from flat-screen televisions to lasers to hybrid cars.

China has about 30 percent of rare earths deposits, but accounts for about 97 percent of production. The US, Canada and Australia have rare earths, but stopped mining them in the 1990s as lower-cost Chinese supplies became available.

China’s Ministry of Commerce has said it will limit rare earths exports to protect China’s environment, but denied a report that -shipments would be cut by up to 30 percent next year.

This year’s export quota is 22,026 tonnes, down 30 percent from last year.

Zhu said a reduction in exports was in line with China’s free-trade commitments under the WTO.

The US and Japan, meanwhile, will cooperate to diversify the sources of imports of rare earths needed in high-tech products, Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said on Wednesday.

“We have to diversify the sources of rare earth minerals,” Maehara said in a press conference with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after they met in Hawaii.

“And here again Japan and the United States will closely cooperate with each other in order to engage in more diversified rare earth minerals diplomacy,” he said.

Clinton meanwhile welcomed remarks from officials in Beijing that China will not use its near-global monopoly on the rare earths trade as a “bargaining tool,” but she said it is important to diversify sources.

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