No improvement in China’s rare earths ban

The Associated Press

Officials said Tuesday they have not seen any easing of China’s de facto ban on exports of rare earth minerals — crucial for advanced manufacturing — despite the thaw in tensions over the Senkaku dispute

China has denied that it has halted exports of the materials, but Japanese companies have said shipments of rare earth elements have virtually stopped since around Sept. 21, held up at Chinese ports by increased paperwork and inspections.

“The reality is, the situation has not at all returned to normal,” Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Akihiro Ohata said.

He said he is considering sending senior trade officials to Beijing for talks if the problem persists.

China produces 97 percent of the global supply of rare earth metals. To cope with growing demand at home, China has been reducing export quotas over the past several years, causing concern about the minerals’ supply long before September’s restrictions to Japan.

Shaken by the potential threat of supply disruptions to its manufacturers, Japan is considering becoming a global center for rare earths recycling and is partnering with Mongolia to develop new rare earth mines.

The halt to shipments happened after the Sept. 8 arrest of a Chinese fishing boat captain whose trawler collided with two Japanese patrol vessels near the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

According to a government survey of companies taken last Friday to Monday, Japanese importers of rare earth materials from China said shipments continued to stall over the weekend.

The survey found that shipments of other raw materials had also been stuck in China, but some companies reported those goods are starting to flow again.

If China is found to be taking discriminatory actions against Japanese companies, Tokyo may take the case to the World Trade Organization, officials have said.

400 students visit

Kyodo News

About 400 Chinese high school students arrived Tuesday in Japan for a nine-day stay under a bilateral exchange program in a sign bilateral ties are improving somewhat.

They will stay with families and interact with Japanese students during a variety of events.

About 500 Japanese high school students are scheduled to leave for China next Tuesday under the same program.