- Air Force cadets ‘revolt’ after officials remove biblical verse from whiteboard
- Rep. Lee: Paul Ryan out of touch with urban Americans
- House votes down resolution to force Issa to apologize
- Kremlin blocks opposition websites; Kasparov fears Putin plans ‘something drastic’
- Saving trees? EPA wastes $1.5 million storing unneeded pamphlets in warehouse
- Scott Brown Senate bid in New Hampshire may launch soon
- Jeffrey Corzine, son of ex-N.J. governor, dead at 31
- Australian surfing magazine sorry for calling indigenous surfer ‘apeish’
- Records: Man in Fla. theater shooting also was texting
- The Putin problem: U.S. needs Russian rockets for spy satellites
Nations wary of dependence on China’s rare earths
TOKYO (AP) - China’s recent halt of exotic metal shipments to Japan amid a diplomatic spat has reverberated throughout the world’s high-tech manufacturing hubs _ now on heightened alert to the risks of relying on one country for materials that do everything from helping hybrid engines run to creating the color red in televisions.
Governments as far afield as Washington and Seoul are asking: What happens if China cuts off our supply too?
As tensions over islands claimed by both Japan and China ran high last month, Japanese companies reported that China had halted shipments of rare earths _ 17 exotic minerals critical for advanced manufacturing. Hybrid car engines, like those in Toyota’s Prius, need lanthanum. Europium creates the color red in televisions. The electric generators in wind turbines use neodynium.
“Some countries have started taking steps to seek various options,” Japan’s new Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said Friday. “I think it is quite a healthy development for each country to start resource diplomacy after developing a sense of crisis because of the latest incident.”
China’s virtual monopoly is no accident. Former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping once famously quipped that while the Middle East had oil, China had rare earths. The U.S. led the world in rare earth production until the late 1980s. Since then, however, China has grown to dominate the market by undercutting other producers with lower prices.
Annual global production of rare earth elements totals about 124,000 tons, according to a July report by the U.S. Congressional Research Service. World demand is expected to rise to 180,000 tons a year by 2012. By 2014, global demand could exceed 200,000 tons per year, according to the report.
Concern about rare earth supply had been brewing long before September’s restrictions to Japan, which Beijing still denies. To cope with growing demand at home, China has been reducing export quotas of rare earths over the past several years. In the second half of this year, the government has capped overseas shipments at 7,976 tons, down 49 percent from the first half, according to figures from China's Ministry of Commerce.
Although shipments appear to have resumed, the issue has become a political priority in Japan, where the vital auto industry has invested heavily in hybrid and electric cars _ among the biggest consumers of rare earths _ to drive growth.
On Friday, Tokyo released a set of “comprehensive rare earth measures” to ensure a stable supply for Japanese industry.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry outlined five main areas of focus, including speeding development of rare earth alternatives, turning Japan into a major global center for rare earth recycling and helping manufacturers install equipment to reduce rare earth consumption. The government will also support Japanese companies in acquiring concession rights to rare earth mines outside of China and study the possibility of stockpiling rare earth reserves.
Japan announced a new accord with Mongolia the following day. At a meeting between Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Mongolian Prime Minister Sukhbaatar Batbold, the two countries agreed to cooperate in developing rare earth mines in Mongolia.
The new partnership comes on top of ongoing projects launched recently by major Japanese companies seeking to diversify their rare earth sources.
TWT Video Picks
By Emily Miller
Obama is losing the debate on gun ownership, concealed-carry permits
- USS Kidd sent to Indian Ocean after 'indication' of Malaysian jet crash
- F-35 secrets now showing up in Chinas stealth fighter
- MILLER: Law enforcement realizes good people with guns deter crime
- U.S. pilot scares off Iranians with 'Top Gun'-worthy stunt: 'You really ought to go home'
- NRA shirt gets N.Y. high school student suspended
- Kim Jong-un calls for execution of 33 Christians
- Oil rig worker says he saw missing plane go down: report
- Senators reach deal on unemployment benefits
- Ben Carson: America's now 'very much like Nazi Germany'
- Kerry warns of 'very serious' response to Crimea-Russia alliance
Chaos as Manhattan building explodes
Pope Francis meets his 'mini-me'
Celebrity deaths in 2014
Winter storm hits states — again