Amid Tension, China Blocks Rare Earth Exports to Japan

China shows no sign of letting up in the dispute with Japan over a collision at sea in disputed waters. From the New York Times:

Chinese customs officials are halting all shipments to Japan of so-called rare earth elements, industry officials said on Thursday morning.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao personally called for Japan’s release of the captain, who was detained after his vessel collided with two Japanese coast guard vessels about 40 minutes apart as he tried to fish in waters controlled by Japan but long claimed by China. Mr. Wen threatened unspecified further actions if Japan did not comply.

A Chinese commerce ministry official declined on Thursday to discuss the country’s trade policy on rare earths, saying only that Mr. Wen’s comments remained the Chinese government’s position.

China mines 93 percent of the world’s rare earth minerals, and more than 99 percent of the world’s supply of some of the most prized rare earths, which sell for several hundred dollars a pound.

Yet Bloomberg reports that Chinese officials have denied imposing such a ban:

“China does not have a trade embargo on rare earth exports to Japan,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economics Co- operation spokesman Chen Rongkai said in a telephone interview today.

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