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China Embargos Rare Earth Exports To Japan

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the synthesize-this-buddy dept.

Businesses 470

Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times reports that the Chinese government has placed a trade embargo on all exports to Japan of a crucial category of minerals used in products like hybrid cars, wind turbines and guided missiles. 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. The embargo comes after a dispute over Japan's detention of a Chinese fishing trawler captain whose ship collided with two Japanese coast guard vessels as he tried to fish in waters controlled by Japan but long claimed by China. The Chinese embargo is likely to have immediate repercussions in Washington. The House Committee on Science and Technology is scheduled to review a detailed bill to subsidize the revival of the American rare earths industry and the House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to review the American military dependence on Chinese rare earth elements."

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I can see the historians now (5, Funny)

Cruciform (42896) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680062)

"And then World War 3 was fought over dirt."

"Don't you mean land, Grandpa?"

"No, dirt. But it was extra special expensive dirt. I shot me a lot of Chinese just to get a wheelbarrow full. It paid for your fancy university education. And your radiation pills."

Re:I can see the historians now (4, Informative)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680122)

You'd be shocked over the amount of wars fought over 'special dirt', or shiny but worthless metal, or salt. In any case, if China and Japan duke it out, it won't be about dirt, it will be about a century long conflict (which incidentally has had Japan framed up as the villains more often than China) that was never properly resolved after the end of WWII. Kind of how WWII itself was caused by the never properly resolved conflict known as WWI.

Re:I can see the historians now (3, Informative)

Cruciform (42896) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680170)

Dirt, spice, poppies, slaves. We'll pretty much go to war over anything.

Re:I can see the historians now (5, Funny)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680252)

Them's fightin' words...

Re:I can see the historians now (3, Informative)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680318)

The magnets extend life. The magnets expand consciousness. The magnets are vital to space travel.

I can see the viagra now (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33680364)

Dirt, spice, poppies, slaves. We'll pretty much go to war over anything.

No one's fought a war over sex yet.

Re:I can see the viagra now (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33680398)

You've obviously never had a girlfriend. Relationships are just a war over sex and dinner.

Re:I can see the viagra now (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33680400)

Oh how wrong you are

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trojan_War [wikipedia.org]

Re:I can see the viagra now (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33680626)

Indeed, a thousand ships were launched when King Menelaus discovered that he had run out of condoms.

The greatest warrior on either side was Achilles, who was completely invulnerable everywhere except his heel. According to Homer, he slew Hector in a single blow with his unsheathed manhood.

We can thank the Trojan War for incredible advances in chemistry. Many important new developments were made in latex technology, due to the Greeks' need to properly protect the Trojan Horse.

Helen of Troy, ironically, and anachronistically, had syphilis.

Re:I can see the viagra now (3, Funny)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680418)

No one's fought a war over sex yet.

Speak for yourself.

Re:I can see the viagra now (1)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680602)

You mean recently?

You ever heard of Troy?

Re:I can see the historians now (1)

DIplomatic (1759914) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680320)

See here in the States, we do our fighting over intellectual properties with nearly-identical features. HTML5 vs Flash, Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD.....

Re:I can see the historians now (1)

cf18 (943501) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680588)

It was not properly resolved because at the end of WWII USA intentionally leave the issue with the island unresolved.

Re:I can see the historians now (4, Informative)

biobogonics (513416) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680204)

"And then World War 3 was fought over dirt."

When the U.S. embargoed oil to Japan in July, 1941 it was almost a certainty that war would soon follow.

Re:I can see the historians now (4, Informative)

interval1066 (668936) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680694)

"When the U.S. embargoed oil to Japan in July, 1941 it was almost a certainty that war would soon follow."

Only because of Japanese expansionist imperial policy and the invasion of Manchuria made it clear what Japanese goals were in the pacific. And their attack on Pearl Harbor later that year didnt help.

Re:I can see the historians now (3, Insightful)

zero_out (1705074) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680214)

Wow... you don't want to put a resource embargo on Japan. That has a tendency to cause problems, like Pearl Harbor. Most of Japan's exports require rare earths. Without them, their economy will likely tank. Are the Chinese really this nuts? This isn't war, yet, and Japan doesn't have much of a military, but still. It's like the two were turning up the heat, from 22 C to 23, then 24, and now China just cranks it up to 93. Maybe I'm overestimating the escalation here, but wow... Is this captain really as valuable as an Austrian Archduke?

Re:I can see the historians now (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680298)

New business plan:

  1. Set up shop in Hong Kong, Russia, or South Korea.
  2. Buy rare-earth elements from China.
  3. ???
  4. Profit!

Re:I can see the historians now (2, Insightful)

zrbyte (1666979) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680664)

Yes you are a bit overstating, but the point is still valid. This will most likely turn out to be a show of power by China on the lines of:

"Oh come now Mr. Hatoyama, you don't really mean that. I have you by your balls."

However, situations like this are a sign of bigger problems, namely that tensions over resources are mounting all over the World. We will have to be very careful to avoid (any more) real and bloody conflicts.

Re:I can see the historians now (4, Informative)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680392)

"Japan doesn't have much of a military,"

That's because it's constitutionally prevented from having more than a "defensive force" of small scale. Treaties signed with the U.S. post-WWII require the U.S. to assist in the defense of Japan if it is attacked. See Defense policy of Japan [wikipedia.org]

Re:I can see the historians now (2, Informative)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680430)

Wow... you don't want to put a resource embargo on Japan. That has a tendency to cause problems, like Pearl Harbor.

Or Gundam suits.

Re:I can see the historians now (1)

cf18 (943501) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680570)

False. Japan's navy is very technologically advanced only second to US.

Re:I can see the historians now (2, Insightful)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680584)

"like Pearl Harbor"... Yea that worked out so well for Japan.
This is really going to push a lot of buttons. Good thing is that rare earths are not all that rare just hard to separate. There are large deposits in Mountian Pass California.
The US and other nations stopped mining it because China produced it cheaper... Looks like the price has gone way up. Maybe it is time we stopped depending on China for anything.
Oh and if China decided to wreck the US economy then it wrecks it own. Too much of their wealth is in US dollars.

Re:I can see the historians now (1)

nomadic (141991) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680666)

and Japan doesn't have much of a military, but still

Japan has a large, very well-equipped, very well-trained military.

Re:I can see the historians now (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680432)

In this case, it's being fought over water.

Re:I can see the historians now (1)

Kepesk (1093871) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680460)

Awesome. Does this all mean those cool rare earth magnets are going to get super expensive? I'm going to miss those.

Re:I can see the historians now (4, Insightful)

aurispector (530273) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680848)

You guys are surprisingly lighthearted over this. The chinese control a significant percentage of various rare earth supplies. They're called "rare" for a reason. This embargo is just anther example of the strong arm tactics the chinese government so liberally employs in their bid to extend their power and influence over the world. Currency manipulation is another way they deliberately try to wreck western economies. They're succeeding, too.
.
They are not nice people. China is not "free" in any sense of the word.
.
As they continue to turn the screws, expect to spend more for just about everything, which will be extra hard since all the jobs are going to china...
.
Enjoy your coming third world lifestyle.

Re:I can see the historians now (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680840)

Geekoid already won with his comment about water, but it is also worth pointing out that there is plenty of dirt around the rest of the world, just not very many people interested in competing with China when it comes to environmental carnage.

Simple answer (1, Insightful)

Niris (1443675) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680064)

Just nuke China. I'm tired of waiting for the new Fallout game.

Re:Simple answer (4, Insightful)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680100)

MacArthur said if we didn't bomb China during the Korean War, we'd just end up fighting in Indochina next. Guess what? Indochina was the French Colonial name for Vietnam. Guess he was right. But seriously though, while nuking China isn't really feasible or productive, outsourcing production and relying too heavily on foreign sources of raw materials are generally bad ideas. Plus, its not like nearly every war in history has been fought over natural resources (to include territory) or anything...

Re:Simple answer (1)

dintech (998802) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680254)

relying too heavily on foreign sources of raw materials

And this is where Japan hits the rocks (pun intended). They don't have much in the way of useful goodies in the ground and have no choice but to be dependent on other countries.

No worries (2, Insightful)

arcite (661011) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680280)

pseudo capitalism is in the process of destroying China from within. As inflation increases, natural resources deplete, environmental catastrophes take their toll, grain shortages increase, and the water continues to run out, well, things will just progress in a predictable fashion. The US need only contain China, which they are successfully doing by forcing them to buy their debt by the billions. It's a stroke of genius actually.

Re: No worries (2, Insightful)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680498)

pseudo capitalism is in the process of destroying China from within. As inflation increases, natural resources deplete, environmental catastrophes take their toll, grain shortages increase, and the water continues to run out, well, things will just progress in a predictable fashion. The US need only contain China, which they are successfully doing by forcing them to buy their debt by the billions. It's a stroke of genius actually.

And when China becomes disfunctional you won't be able to buy anthing anymore, because every frikkin thing you buy these days is made in China.

Re: No worries (1)

Hylandr (813770) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680752)

And then Wal-Mart collapses.

They have been slowly raising their prices after killing off local stores ( competition ) anyways. If their main supplier of goods gets too expensive who knows where they will buy from?

Hopefully it means the return of local departments stores and rekindles downtown districts.

This embargo could be just what the US needs.

- Dan.

Re:No worries (3, Insightful)

Bob-taro (996889) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680578)

I'd like to ask a specific question about what you said, but I'm pretty much lost from beginning to end. What is "psuedo capitalism" and how does it lead to inflation, depletion of resources, etc.? In what fashion do you predict things will progress? How is the U.S. forcing China to buy it's debt and in what way is that "containing" China? Presumably, if I can understand all that, I'll see how it's a stroke of genius.

Re:Simple answer (2, Interesting)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680344)

"relying too heavily on foreign sources of raw materials are generally bad ideas"

Erm and do what? Japan has a reallly really high GDP for a country with such a small landmass that is not particularly rich. What would they base their economy on?

Re:Simple answer (0)

kuthkameen (1197361) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680410)

Indochina is not just Vietnam - French Indochina comprised of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

Re:Simple answer (1)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680810)

The US bombed Cambodia, and it also bombed Laos.

Re:Simple answer (1)

melikamp (631205) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680136)

I'm tired of waiting for the new Fallout game that does not suck and blow at the same time [nma-fallout.com] .

I'm just saying it.. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33680072)

We really should nuke China already.

Knew it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33680074)

I knew something like this was going to happen. China holds much more than a majority of rare earth production too. If this escalates, Japan is going to be hit hard.

Re:Knew it (2, Interesting)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680352)

Japan isn't self-sufficient in the food area either. I hear they get most of their food, especially rice, from China. I've heard some estimates that if the food they get from China were to disappear and weren't replaced, they'd be facing starvations in about a month (though I don't have a citation on that, so that may be wildly inaccurate). Not to mention that Japan is militarily defenseless against China, and even if China didn't feel like getting their hands dirty, they could always tell North Korea to start acting up at Japan. In other words, Japan doesn't really have a strong foothold to be poking China like this. I guess they have a lot of faith that China will agree to a diplomatic solution.

More likely though, the bureaucratic head of the Japanese coast guard was pissed off at another part of the bureaucracy and wanted them to lose face. Or maybe he just decided that the last decade-long recession to hit Japan was pretty nice, so he should do his best to make sure the current one lasts that long too by sabotaging manufacturing dependent on those rare earth exports.

Re:Knew it (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680650)

Given all that, it's also rather odd that Japan wants to get rid of American military bases in Japan.

Re:Knew it (2, Informative)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680788)

I've heard some estimates that if the food they get from China were to disappear and weren't replaced, they'd be facing starvations in about a month (though I don't have a citation on that, so that may be wildly inaccurate).

Urban Japan, at least. In the smaller towns it's still quite common to farm your own rice. The smallish (population around 23,000) town I stayed in was surrounded by rice paddies. Apparently there were a couple of weeks when everything else in the town stopped as everyone went out to either plant or harvest rice. Pretty much every family owned at least one (smallish) field, which grew the majority of the rice that they ate. I'm sure India would love to sell them a lot more food, if China wanted to stop...

Not to mention that Japan is militarily defenseless against China, and even if China didn't feel like getting their hands dirty, they could always tell North Korea to start acting up at Japan

The USA has treaty obligations towards Japan that make declaring war on Japan equivalent to declaring war on the USA. Even North Korea isn't that stupid.

Zen Magnets (4, Funny)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680082)

So this is the reason Zen Magnets are out of stock?

Re:Zen Magnets (4, Funny)

pregister (443318) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680408)

I love this quote from the Zen Magnet website. "You'll never put them down for good. Zen Magnets are fun to play with, look good on cute people, go well with deep breaths, and may have health benefits. "

They look good on cute people. The rest of us...sol.

Re:Zen Magnets (3, Informative)

NFN_NLN (633283) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680572)

Despite there name rare earth metals are necessarily rare. It's just that China's cheap labour and environmental laws makes mining them cheaper.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Elemental_abundances.svg [wikipedia.org]

According to this chart Nd (neodymium) is about as abundant as Pb (lead) and Zinc (Zn).

When you consider the $'s and effort in northern Canada to mine natural diamonds even though you can create superior diamonds in a lab for cheaper, it puts things in perspective.

Trade war? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33680084)

This will get ugly once Japan puts an embargo on China's sunrise.

Re:Trade war? (1)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680118)

Which would screw over Mexico, since Tequila, one of the main ingredients in a Sunrise, is basically their only legal export.

Re:Trade war? (1)

Niris (1443675) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680128)

Never had a malibu sunrise? It's pretty damn good.

Re:Trade war? (1)

HeckRuler (1369601) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680242)

Simpsons did it.

For once I am glad... (1)

tiksi (1527943) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680110)

... that all of our electronics are made in china. At first I was worried about what this would mean for electronics, then I remembered that nothing is actually made in Japan, just designed there, sometimes.

Re:For once I am glad... (2, Informative)

treeves (963993) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680730)

You should continue to be worried.
There are a lot of things that *go into* electronics (components, among which ICs are the most profitable) or are used to *make* electronic components but you're right most of the *assembly* doesn't take place in Japan.
Nikon (not just cameras), Hitachi, Fujitsu, Renesas, NEC, Canon (again, not just cameras), Shimadzu, (a few off the top off my head - and I'm tired so I'm leaving off a bunch) most of the companies listed here [semiconjapan.org] . And a lot of them make things *in Japan*.
And then there's the specialty chemical companies.
China does have some dependencies on Japan as well, although admittedly that has shifted a lot the other way.

Not quite that clear cut, but important nonetheles (5, Informative)

alexismadrigal (1310087) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680112)

We should probably note here that the Wall Street Journal printed all kinds of denials from the Chinese. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704062804575509640345070222.html [wsj.com] Me, I'm just annoyed that we can't get a real industrial policy together to support a rare earth metals industry in the US. Got annoyed enough to write a piece for The Atlantic about it: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/09/worried-about-chinas-monopoly-on-rare-elements-restart-american-production/63444/ [theatlantic.com] One thing to watch out for on the rare earth metal tip is that the Department of Defense is releasing a report on their use for military purposes in the beginning of October. Will be interesting to see what they say.

Re:Not quite that clear cut, but important nonethe (2, Insightful)

russotto (537200) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680246)

Me, I'm just annoyed that we can't get a real industrial policy together to support a rare earth metals industry in the US.

Environmentalists would stop it dead. It involves mining and extraction.

Re:Not quite that clear cut, but important nonethe (5, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680302)

Ya we need to look in to this. Despite the name, Rare Earths aren't. There are plenty of them. Of course they have to be mined, refined, and all that shit. That is largely left to China simply because China pays people shit and has no safety or environmental standards. However as you accurately note, they are important, we need to be supplying ourselves.

Easy fix (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33680534)

Get Molycorps U.S. mines operating again.

Re:Easy fix (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33680704)

352813N 1153242W
Mountain Pass, California
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_Pass,_California

Re:Not quite that clear cut, but important nonethe (2, Insightful)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680304)

1) Get investors
2) Buy the land in the US with REMs below
3) Start mining

Depending on who you know, step 2.5 should be asking the US gov for tariffs on rare earth metals coming from China, to help prop up the price in the US (otherwise, China will manipulate the export price to make it economically infeasible to mine in the US, and then raise prices once mining has stopped).

what about hard drives? (1)

v1 (525388) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680130)

every (non ssd) hard drive has four rare earth magnets in the arm positioning system... I wonder what this will do for hard drive production?

Re:what about hard drives? (2, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680186)

they'll be 5 dollars more expensive.

Re:what about hard drives? (1)

MiniMike (234881) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680210)

I wonder what this will do for hard drive recycling. It can only help put emphasis on advancing SSD drives.

Re:what about hard drives? (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680368)

Because SSDs are made out of farts and rainbows?

Re:what about hard drives? (2, Informative)

TheEyes (1686556) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680536)

Because they're made out of silicon and gold, both of which are plentiful (we have enough gold already mined to last 100 years, if everyone would stop hoarding it in silly attempts to create yet another bubble.)

Re:what about hard drives? (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680616)

No but not rare yearth metals. At least not a lot of them.

Re:what about hard drives? (1)

treeves (963993) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680798)

If by "farts and rainbows" you mean electronic components not including rare earth magnets, then yes, farts and rainbows.

Darn - need to stock up on rare earth magnets at.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33680158)

...Thinkgeek.com
http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/science/770f/ [thinkgeek.com]

I think... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33680160)

we could avoid all this debate if China would just nuke the US already....

Lead into Gold (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33680180)

It's possible to use a nuclear reactor to generate these rare metals. But, it's so expensive that nobody does. How much would neodymium have to cost, per kilogram, before it would be economical to use reactors to synthesize the element?

Re:Lead into Gold (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33680216)

$428.32

Japan is a dead rock (2, Interesting)

L3370 (1421413) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680196)

In terms of natural resources, Japan is practically void of anything valuable. Lucky for the Japanese, China is still pissed over that whole "Rape of Nanking" deal.

Re:Japan is a dead rock (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33680244)

they still havent apologized, i believe, and their texbooks (afaik) are in denial.

Re:Japan is a dead rock (1)

HeckRuler (1369601) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680286)

And the USA is running dry on oil. What's your point?

Re:Japan is a dead rock (2, Interesting)

L3370 (1421413) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680366)

My point is--it's not surprising. Japan has always been vulnerable to this. Only this time around, thanks to WWII surrender conditions, they have no hand to play against China (Not allowed to have an offensive capable military.) In the good 'ol days Japan would have just gone to war with them if they pulled this. (They did it to the USA, because we wouldn't trade resources.)

Just pointing out the interesting role reversal here. That is all.

Ah huh... (0)

arcite (661011) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680326)

But the Japanese have one thing. ROBOTS!

Re:Ah huh... (1)

Jeng (926980) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680522)

I imagine the robots are heavily dependent on those rare earth metals.

Re:Japan is a dead rock (5, Insightful)

DesScorp (410532) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680598)

In terms of natural resources, Japan is practically void of anything valuable. Lucky for the Japanese, China is still pissed over that whole "Rape of Nanking" deal.

China is one of the oldest civilizations on Earth, and at one time had perhaps the most powerful. And yet, after their golden age, they withered and spent the rest of history being what we would call a Third World Country. Only now are they finally ready for world power status again.

Contrast them against Japan, who only a little more than a century ago, was a dirt poor, backwards country that had to be literally forced at the barrel of a gun to open their doors to the world. By the 1930's... scant decades away... they became one of the most powerful industrialized countries in the world, creating a war machine that conquered a huge part of the globe in just a few years.

And then we nuked them. They went from world power, to shambles, a conquered country with two radioactive wastes where cities had been. And in less than three decades after that, they became one of the wealthiest and most technologically advanced countries on the planet... again... arguably more powerful economically than they were at the hight of their military might.

They did all this... twice... in the span of a single century, with no natural resources to speak of, save one: the Japanese people themselves.

I wouldn't count Japan out just yet.

All this over a fishing boat (3, Interesting)

Sonny Yatsen (603655) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680294)

This has just been the product of one of the stupidest cases of over-reactions of all time on all sides.

Japan's holding a Chinese fishing captain who was fishing off of waters claimed by both Japan and China. Japan refuses to release the captain, so China asks for an informal ban on rare earth exports to Japan for the rest of the month. Both sides are being driven to some completely meaningless conflict by hardliners. China's hardliners see no reason to back down because they want to flex their muscles. Japan's hardliners see no reason to back down because they think they can benefit politically in future elections. And all of this because they can't agree how to settle a case about a fishing boat.

Re:All this over a fishing boat (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33680440)

If you know a thing about history it's not just about a fishing boat.

Re:All this over a fishing boat (5, Informative)

atfrase (879806) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680550)

If you think this is really just about a fishing boat, you haven't studied enough history or global politics.

Re:All this over a fishing boat (3, Informative)

TheEyes (1686556) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680688)

To be fair, the fishing boat rammed the Japanese military boat (there is speculation that elements within China have been putting fishing boat captains up to this in the hope of provoking Japan), so the crime isn't really that the guy was fishing in disputed waters.

The Chinese are notorious for these tactics (4, Insightful)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680310)

Helps when your government has total control over your ostensibly "capitalist" system. They recently levied some random bullshit charges against Toyota as well, a not so thinly veiled swipe at the Japanese government. Then there is Rio Tinot case where China made sure Rio Tinto didn't compete against a Chinese company by jailing their executives on a bullshit charge. They are also the same market that abhors protectionism and then is protectionist every chance they get. Even during the heyday of Japanese protectionism there were no where NEAR as bad as the Chinese. But of course, protectionism is bad, unless it benefits the Chinese, then its good.

Japan the US and the EU really should team up to take China to task for all the bullshit its pulling.

Re:The Chinese are notorious for these tactics (1)

microbee (682094) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680684)

They recently levied some random bullshit charges against Toyota as well

The first government that comes to mind isn't China.

Don't even mention who is the No.1 in waving embargo at countries it doesn't like.

US and Japan already teamed up. So I don't get what you think they can do.

Not really over a fisherman (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33680332)

The fisherman story is a big piece of this story, but not all or even half of it. The real issue at stake has to do with some little tiny rock in the East China Sea. It was recognized as an island and part of Japan's soveriegn land by treaties with the US in WW2, but historically has been used by both China and Japan. The fact is, it doesn't really qualify as an island by the international legal definition; it's just a dead volcano with no active life or anything. Just a big rock.

However, if the Japanese can claim it as their territorial grounds, then what comes along with that is the 200 mile exclusive economic zone, and apparently that area has some of the best commercial fishing in East Asia as well as being suspected of having substantial undiscovered mineral and gas deposits. So while the talk about a fisherman is noteworthy, he's just a pawn, like this rare earth metals embargo is also a pawn, in this game over access to exploit those resources.

Re:Not really over a fisherman (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33680438)

Sounds like Dokdo (Japanese call it Takeshima, and in English it's Liancourt Rocks), the same issue the Japanese and Koreans have been fighting over; control of a tiny, barren speck of rock poking out of the ocean.

Re:Not really over a fisherman (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33680560)

It's a big deal. Most people who don't understand maritime law think "Why all the fuss over some speck of rock?" What comes along with that speck of rock is underwater oil and mineral deposits in huge quantities, often to the edge of the continental shelf. When you can expand your EEZ and crowd out your neighbors, it gives you a huge economic advantage. That's really what this is about, as is the Dokdo island dispute you mentioned.

I missed it in my earlier post; the islands in dispute are the Senkaku Islands (Japanese, Chinese name is Diaoyu Islands).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Senkaku_Islands [wikipedia.org]

Summary and Article Misleading... (5, Insightful)

coolmoose25 (1057210) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680360)

... But not intentionally so... if you RTFA, and I did, you'll find that rare earths actually aren't really rare. So while China MINES 93 percent of the world's rare earths, and thus supplies 99% of it, most countries COULD also do this if they wanted to. In fact, the last mine in the US closed in 2002 because, according to the article, of a radiation leak... seems these rare earth's are usually found with radioactive thorium and uranium. So what has happened is that China positioned itself as a reliable supplier of rare earths, and did so cheaply. Although the article doesn't say this, my guess is that China probably doesn't take the same safety precautions with mines and the thorium, which the article did say was costly to dispose of.

What has happened here is that China, again, produces things in an environmentally unfriendly way (since they apparently don't care much about the cost of crapping on their own country), and thus does so with cheap labor, thus becoming the most economically viable producer. Only now do they start to flex that muscle they have built...

So the world has a few choices - they can continue to rely on China, and deal with politically induced supply disruptions, find other countries that are willing to cheaply crap on their own environments and buy from them, or produce such materials locally but at much higher cost.

Subsidize mining industry? (2, Interesting)

jmichaelg (148257) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680372)

This is so damn typical. Congress passes a law that has negative consequences so they pass another law to try to fix the consequences. Congress is responsible for the decline of rare earth mines in the first place. For example, a good junk of the Mojave was home to several rare-earth mines that were put out of business when Senator Feinstein pushed through the Desert Wilderness Protection act.

  Solar farms are out of luck when they try to site in the Mojave for the same reason - Feinstein has blocked off huge chunks of land.

Instead of subsidizing mining, perhaps repealing Senator Feinstein's handiwork would be a good place to start.

Future production (2, Insightful)

AfroTrance (984230) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680390)

The Mt Weld mine [lynascorp.com] in Australia is under construction. They claim to be able to supply 20% of global production. The Mountain Pass mine [wikipedia.org] is to re-open next year as well.

Go Fe16N2! (2, Interesting)

Billy the Mountain (225541) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680396)

I'll sure be happy when the figure out how to grow mass quantities of Fe16N2 crystals to make even stronger magnets so we can forget about rare-earth.

US sources coming back on line (4, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680402)

This was covered in the Economist last week.

The US has some of the largest deposits of rare earths in the world. One big location is Mountain Pass, California. The mine there was closed in 2002, because it wasn't competitive with the China price. (Or with China's mining with a complete lack of environmental controls. [seekingalpha.com] )

The Mountain Pass mine is being reopened under new management. [nytimes.com] In a few years, this problem will be over.

The problem with rare-earth mining is that, since the materials are rare, the waste problem is huge. The early stages of extractoin are messy. Big acid lakes, things like that.

Re:US sources coming back on line (1)

klui (457783) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680772)

Will this new management extract with a complete lack of environmental controls?

Mining is inherently boom or bust (2, Insightful)

mschaffer (97223) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680420)

So, they're looking to subsidize the revival of the American rare earths industry?
It's not like it will evaporate out of the ground if we aren't mining it. There's no need to destroy the environment with unnecessary mining and waste money for digging's sake.
If the price goes up, we'll just start digging again. Just like every other mining cycle.

Oh Captain My Captain (1)

Kagato (116051) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680462)

It's nice to see the Chinese are advancing. In the past they would just trump up some charges on a random Japanese Businessman that had the ire of the local party chair. Now it's a two part grab. 1) Make your point on the captain. 2) Force highly skilled manufacturing to China so you can steal the intellectual property!

Typical bad policy (2, Insightful)

SecurityGuy (217807) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680516)

If the rare earth supply dries up, the open market price will rise and mining these domestically will happen because it's economically sensible to do so. There's no reason to subsidize anything, Congress. Just get out of the way and let the market work.

Here's the formerly obligatory... (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680538)

"All your rare earths are belong to us."

review the American military dependence (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680582)

Its about time.

Can they do it? (4, Insightful)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680594)

I thought this kind of embargo would cause all sorts of sanctions from WTO members, and that China wasn't supposed to do this as a signatory of various WTO trade agreements.

I'm getting a bit annoyed at China's constant attempts at having their pie and eating it. But I guess they can get away with this - after all, way too many countries have their balls squeezed by China.

Cold War Titanium (2, Interesting)

SirDrinksAlot (226001) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680606)

The bulk of the USA's titanium during the cold war came from Russia. They bought it through fake companies and then used it on the very spy planes that they used to spy on them. I always rather enjoyed that little bit of information.

This just in... (1)

Script Cat (832717) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680726)

Japan blocks the import of cheep manga figurines from China crippling China's economy.

Take that (2, Insightful)

nerdin (1330) | more than 3 years ago | (#33680796)

The world should simply accepte that there's a new Master and no longer is called USA.

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