In the wake of the worst territorial dispute with China in recent history over the Senkaku / Diaoyu Islands, Japan is rapidly looking to other countries for sources of rare earth mineral imports. Yukio Edano, the Minster of Economy, Trade, and Industry, commented on Monday that he expects Japan to be getting 50% of its supplies from countries other than China by the middle of 2013. Such a rapid shift away from China will significantly reduce the dependence Japan’s technology industry has on the country, as well ensure a stable supply for the future.
Rare earth minerals are an absolute necessity in today’s technology markets, as they are used in everything from smartphones and tablets to the batteries in hybrid cars. Prior to the territorial dispute, Japan was importing 90% of its rare earths from China alone. New agreements have been reached to secure imports from Kazakhstan as well as India starting next year, and plans have already been made with Vietnam and Australia to jointly reduce reliance on China.
Minister Edano adds that the government wants to enjoy the benefits of a diversity of suppliers, as well as support domestic development that would reduce the amount of rare earths used and promote recycling. China is the world’s single largest producer of the valuable minerals, accounting for roughly 90% of supplies. After a previous dispute over the islands in 2010, China briefly withheld its exports to Japan in response. The country has also tightened restrictions after complaints were filed with the World Trade Organization (WTO) from the U.S., Japan, and Europe over unjust limitations.