The Japanese trade minister yesterday urged China to resume exports of certain minerals called rare earths, that according to both traders and government officials remain blocked since the past month even as the two countries are locked in a territorial dispute.
According to trade minister, Akihiro Ohata, customs officials had stepped up inspections of all rare-earth shipments from China. He quoted a Chinese official who acknowledged this.
Last week industry officials said some shipments of materials to the US and Europe had been halted by China though Beijing remains in denial of the official embargo.
Ohata added that the Chinese vice minister of commerce, Jiang Yaoping, while on a visit to Tokyo for an energy conservation forum, that all rare-earth shipments irrespective of the destination country were now being subjected to additional checks, as a 'countersmuggling' measure. He reiterated, however, that there was no international trade embargo, Ohata said.
On his pressing the Chinese minister to normalise rare-earth shipments, Jiang responded that he would try to make efforts to ensure that the situation would not adversely affect the economies of Japan and China.
Shipments of rare-earth metals to Japan have been blocked by Chinese customs since 21 September, following the arrest of a Chinese fishing boat captain by Japan near disputed islands in the East China Sea. Though the captain has since been released tensions still continue to run high between the two countries.