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Trade minister Banri Kaieda voiced caution Tuesday about cooperating with Beijing in developing alternatives to rare earth minerals, an idea touched on by Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming a day earlier.

“We should decide our stance after figuring out China’s intention,” the minister of economy, trade and industry told a regularly scheduled news conference.

Chen was quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency on Monday as saying China is willing to cooperate with Japan and other countries in developing alternatives to rare earths, saying current demand could soon deplete the world’s reserves.

“At the current pace of rare earth use, it will not take long before the world’s reserves are depleted. We hope to work with Japan and other countries to find alternative materials or recycled way of use,” Chen was quoted as saying at a news conference on the sidelines of the annual session of the National People’s Congress.

China supplies more than 90 percent of the world’s rare earth minerals. The Chinese government is taking restrictive measures on exploration, production and export of rare earths — a move it says is necessary to protect the environment and promote sustainable development of nonrenewable resources.

China, which holds one-third of the world’s rare earth reserves, exported 35,000 tons of rare earths from January to November last year, up 14.5 percent from a year earlier.

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