Tue, Oct 12, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Japan, China to set up liaison system

CONFLICT:Industry observers said a ban on exports of rare earth minerals to Japan remain, despite Chinese officials’ insistence that they had never stopped shipments

AFP and NY Times News Service, TOKYO and HONG KONG

The defense ministers of Japan and China yesterday agreed to set up a liaison system to prevent conflicts at sea, as the two sides look to repair the damage from a diplomatic row, Jiji Press reported.

Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa and his Chinese counterpart, Liang Guanglie (梁光烈), met on the sidelines of an ASEAN meeting in Hanoi.

Kitazawa told Liang it would be “unproductive” to discuss in Hanoi the islands at the center of their row, but the two agreed that both countries would enhance their “mutually beneficial strategic partnership,” Jiji said.

Kitazawa also agreed with Liang that both countries would enhance their “mutually beneficial strategic partnership,” the report said.

The defense ministers met for the first time after China broke off all high-level contact with Tokyo last month, infuriated by Japan’s detention of a Chinese fishing boat captain whose vessel collided with Japanese coast guard patrol ships in waters claimed by both sides.

The row between Asia’s two biggest economies was their worst in years and undermined painstaking recent efforts to improve relations marked by decades of mistrust stemming from Japan’s brutal 1930s invasion of China.

The Chinese skipper was released after more than two weeks and returned to China on Sept. 25.

Jiji said Liang told Kitazawa: “I am grateful that the row was dealt with from the perspective of safeguarding our countries’ relations.”

Separately, Chinese customs officials continued to prohibit all exports of rare earth minerals to Japan over the weekend, industry officials said, but the Chinese government showed signs of taking a more conciliatory stance toward Japan.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) told European political and business leaders on Wednesday last week that China had not imposed any bans on exports of industrial minerals for political purposes and that it did not intend to stop exports in the future.

Rare earth minerals are used in the manufacture of hybrid gasoline-electric cars, computer screens, large wind turbines and in many other applications.

Wen spoke at a China-EU business meeting in Brussels. Chinese officials have consistently taken the position that they have not imposed any regulations preventing exportation of rare earth minerals; any such regulations could be easily challenged at the WTO.

Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming (陳德銘) suggested instead in a television interview on Sept. 26 that Chinese entrepreneurs in the rare earth industry might have halted shipments because of their own feelings toward Japan.

Thirty-two companies in China have export licenses for rare earth minerals, and 10 of them are foreign. Chen did not address why the 10 foreign companies would have strong feelings toward Japan, or why all companies in the Chinese industry halted shipments on the same day, Sept. 21.

Throughout the halt on exports of rare earth minerals, China has allowed exports of manufactured products that use them, like powerful magnets and highly purified rare earth metals. Japan is the largest importer of rare earth minerals and ores. Japanese companies use them to make a wide range of technology products and have been reluctant to import manufactured goods from China instead.

Even before questions arose over the exports to Japan late last month, China had been tightening caps on rare earth exports for five years. When the export halt was imposed, the quota for this year was within a month-and-a-half of being exhausted. However, shipments could continue next month if customs officials allow a resumption soon.

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