Japanese trade officials are pressuring China to resume rare earth shipments, after the latter reportedly banned all international exports of the minerals.
Japan's trade minister, Akihiro Ohata, has called upon China to restart exports of the minerals to Japan, and revealed that China is stepping up inspections of all international shipments, the New York Times said.
The Chinese government banned exports of the minerals to Japan - which are used in products including mobile phones and communications towers – in September.
But industry sources told the Times that China has in the past week halted all international shipments of raw rare earths.
Ohata told Chinese Vice Minister of Commerce Jiang Yaoping in Tokyo that the uncertain supply of the key minerals could damage the two Asian economies, WSJ reported.
Jiang said there was an “intentional” embargo and that authorities were trying to stamp out “illegal shipments.”
China has repeatedly denied it has blocked rare earth exports.
The conflict with Japan stems from the September 21 arrest of a Chinese fishing boat captain in disputed waters by Japanese authorities. Although the captain has been released, diplomatic relations remain strained. China is also in currency and trade disputes with the US.
China’s government has also been imposing tighter restrictions on general exports of the minerals, citing growing domestic demand. The export quota for the second half of 2010 has been reduced by 72%.
Despite the name, rare earths aren't uncommon, but are expensive and sometimes dangerous to extract.
China currently produces an estimated 97% of the world's supply. If China continues to ban exports, it could take between two and five years to set up mines in other countries and even longer for the supply chain to be fully repaired.