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China Embargos Rare Earth Exports To Japan 470

Posted by timothy
from the synthesize-this-buddy dept.
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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China Embargos Rare Earth Exports To Japan

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  • by Cruciform (42896) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @04:43PM (#33680062) Homepage

    "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."

    • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @04:48PM (#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.

      • by Cruciform (42896) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @04:51PM (#33680170) Homepage

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

      • by Antisyzygy (1495469) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:55PM (#33680970)

        Part of the problem stems from something a bit different than what you say. For one, aggression is relative, i.e. History is written by the victors. Japan tried numerous times to fit in with the "imperialist" nations like Britain, France, ect. They never were really accepted by the western imperialist countries as an equal. The few times they militarily dominated parts of China, western powers swooped in and told them they couldn't create a colony there mostly because the western powers wanted Chinese goods. The Japanese felt screwed over whenever the western powers decided that they should not in fact be allowed to create colonies when the western powers themselves were in Africa and other places creating colonies. Long story short, the Japanese did not care for us westerners much and saw us as an adversary to their acquirement of parts of mainland Asia (Mostly in China). This is part of the motivation for Pearl Harbor as they felt if they tried to conquer Manchuria again they would be opposed by westerners. This being the case, they wanted to wipe out the US naval fleet so we couldnt react quick enough to their invasion. After WWII, imperialism is pretty much dead and I would venture to say the Japanese people are not interested in acquiring any part of China. I doubt the situation between Japan and China is the Japanese peoples' fault at this point. If anything the history between them is used by Chinese people as motivation to hate the Japanese.

        DISCLAIMER : There are other current economic reasons for the conflict between Japan and China, but I am addressing the "aggression" part of the parent statement.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by geekpowa (916089)

          I've tried to parse your post multiple times and it appears to me that you are playing apologist for Japan's actions during WW2 and implying that moral responsibility in part extends beyond Japan and to the west.

          Novel, yet dubious position to take. I think your theory will enjoy minimal support from the Chinese, Filipinos and Indonesians who lived through the Asia/Pacific war and its immediate aftermath.

          The trigger for Japan's declaration of war on the US was the oil embargo, which US put in place many, man

          • by Antisyzygy (1495469) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @09:41PM (#33683022)
            Any nations actions are the responsibility of their government, so I am not saying the west is at fault. I am just highlighting the fact that the Japanese tried to play the Imperialist game and no-one would let them. The British, the French, the Spanish, ect. were pulling the same crap all over the world. What the Japanese did was just like what the British, Spanish and French did. I.e. they came to the Americas and either forced or killed Native Americans so they would relinquish their land. However, the Japanese did this in Manchuria. Not to mention, you fail to consider that Japanese people lived through the war as well. What happened to them? They had most of their major cities reduced to ash with incendiaries (see firebombing of Tokyo) and atomic bombs were tested on them for the first time. I say tested because the US military literally wanted to see what would happen if an atomic bomb was dropped since they still didn't fully understand what radiation does to a human being. Before you say "well, the Japanese performed unethical medical experiments on people so they were worse" why don't you look at the plutonium injections given to healthy people, radioactive iron given to pregnant women, and full body irradiation of US citizens in studies funded and sponsored by our very own government and the Atomic Energy Commission. War is not so simple as "one side is right, the other is wrong". Usually there is a dispute, and then all diplomatic relations break down to the point where force is used. The History of the event is written by the victors. This is why we view Japanese as "evil" and look at ourselves as a having a moral high ground. We have anything but that.
            • by geekpowa (916089) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @10:25PM (#33683318)

              I am aware that the Japanese suffered during the war and attacks on Tokyo and usage of the Bomb represent highly controversial issues which will probably never be satisfactorily resolved and I think it is good and important that the controversy of using weapons of mass destruction is aired and looked at from every possible angle even 60+ years later: which conflicts your claim that history is written by the victors because if it was then such dialog would not be occurring.

              But make no mistake, the Japanese were the aggressors here and they engaged in a programme of Total War underpinned with fundamentalist self righteous fervor. They could of brokered truce at any time. They could of chosen not to treat civilian populations and POWs with utter contempt. They, unlike the Germans, cannot claim that they were pushed into a corner in denied opportunity of economic prosperity or national self determination by Allied nations; they were completely in the wrong. Millions of people suffered terribly as a consequence of their actions, including themselves.

              • by hackerjoe (159094) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @11:24PM (#33683698)

                You're not supposed to feel sympathy for the Japanese of the 30s and 40s; they were guilty of terrible atrocities, but that war is over now. You're supposed to feel sympathy for the Japanese of 2010, who weren't in charge almost universally weren't even alive for World War II and are not acting particularly imperialist or aggressive.

                The point is that most white westerners have similarly barbaric atrocities of imperialism somewhere in their not-too-distant past. Go back far enough and everyone can find an ancestor that murdered a rival warlord's entire tribe; if you believe that what your grandparents' neighbours did should condemn you, we are all guilty!

                Eventually we have to forgive, or at least forget, if we're going to live together.

                • by John Saffran (1763678) on Friday September 24, 2010 @02:21AM (#33684318)

                  You're supposed to feel sympathy for the Japanese of 2010, who weren't in charge almost universally weren't even alive for World War II and are not acting particularly imperialist or aggressive.

                  No, just no .. japanese of 2010 may not have undertaken those acts themselves, but that's no excuse for the denialism of history that's taking place in present day japan. When Tojo's granddaughter goes around saying things like:

                  "Japan did not fight a war of aggression. It fought in self-defense," she said. "Our children have been wrongly taught that their ancestors did evil things, that their country is evil. We need to give these children back their pride and confidence."

                  without condemnation, that is the responsibility of the japanese of 2010 to correct. This they have not done, which is why the legacy of the years leading up to the end of WW2 continue to plague us. Forgiveness will come in time, but only once the appropriate measures have been taken to atone.

                  The japanese of 2010 also have to take responsibility for the ongoing apartheid-like racism within their society. Numerous authors have, many of them japanese, have done much work to document this ongoing state and suffice to say that the evidence is quite damning. When the likes of David Suzuki (the well-known naturalist) goes out of his way to co-author of a book on the topic ("The Japan we never knew") then you know things are bad.

                  The best author on the topic is Yasunori FUKUOKA of Saitama University and many of his papers are available at http://www.kyy.saitama-u.ac.jp/~fukuoka/index.html [saitama-u.ac.jp]. His opinion is not particularly complementary when speaking of the widespread discrimination against those no considered "japanese"

                  The Japanese government did not respect their rights as foreigners, instead they continued to oppress Korean human rights even after 1952, declaring "post-war democracy" whilst hiding the truth. The Japanese should recognize that not only the Japanese government, but also Japanese individuals should take responsibility for the difficulties imposed on Koreans in Japan.

                  The largest victims are the Zainichi, but similar oppression was experienced by the likes of the Burakumin and other groups.

                  Japan, both government and society, really needs to clean up their act before they claim to be victimised.

          • by smithmc (451373) * on Thursday September 23, 2010 @11:57PM (#33683826) Journal

            I've tried to parse your post multiple times and it appears to me that you are playing apologist for Japan's actions during WW2 and implying that moral responsibility in part extends beyond Japan and to the west.

            I didn't read it that way. An attempt to explain Japan's motivations is not the same as justifying them, necessarily. Just as one might seek to explain, say, al-Qa'ida's motivations for 9/11 without suggesting that they were justified.

            Meanwhile, you may disagree with the explanation presented, but that's another matter.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by jandersen (462034)

          I doubt the situation between Japan and China is the Japanese peoples' fault at this point

          Hmm, I see. Perhaps you are unaware of the events during the Japanese occupation of China - read up on it, Wikipedia has a several items on this, eg: The Nanjing massacre [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanjing_massacre]. As far as the Chinese goes, they have a lot of very painful memories from WWII, all connected with what Japanese soldiers did in China. The Japanese had a reputation during the war for extreme cruelty - one could almost think they enjoyed doing it. For comparison - German soldiers captured b

    • by biobogonics (513416) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @04:54PM (#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.

      • by interval1066 (668936) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:34PM (#33680694) Homepage Journal

        "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.

    • by zero_out (1705074) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @04:55PM (#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?
      • by confused one (671304) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:10PM (#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: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by demonbug (309515)

          "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]

          Which brings into question what constitutes an attack. I think most would agree that a strike at Japan's economy constitutes an attack (albeit not a physical one); this is clearly an attack on Japan's economy - does this mean the US is obligated to defend Japan? Or does that clause only come into effect for physical, military conflicts (in which case all China would need to destroy Japan is restrain from actually attacking them militarily, if that is their goal)?

          I don't think this will actually come anywher

        • by Bowling Moses (591924) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @06:13PM (#33681204) Journal
          Japan also has the second largest navy in Asia; China's is larger. There are some signs of Japan building up, including the not exactly constitutional Hyuga class "destroyers" [wikipedia.org] which are in reality small (currently VTOL-only) aircraft carriers capable of carrying up to 11 aircraft. Larger ships [wikipedia.org] capable of carrying more aircraft and 4,000 troops are supposed to start construction in 2011. They sound more like an amphibious assault ship half the size of a Tarawa class [wikipedia.org] ship of the US Navy than a destroyer.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by gstoddart (321705)

        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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by LWATCDR (28044)

        "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 i

      • by wrook (134116) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @06:26PM (#33681396) Homepage

        It's not about the captain. It's about the territory. China claims the islands, but Japan controls them. If China can effectively nullify the control then they can take the islands (and the resulting territorial waters). There is a lot of disputed territory in that area. It could get messy.

      • by turkeyfish (950384) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @07:36PM (#33682138)

        This is not a dispute over a fisherman. It is a territorial dispute over a very large chunk of water around a disputed island. It is also an opportunity for China to put pressure on Japan and indirectly on the US (which relies on Japanese to manufacture many critical industrial components, many military in nature that can no longer be manufactured in the US because the US is no longer economically competitive in many high-tech industrial technologies. China sees this as an opportunity to exert its growing economic influence at a time that the West is not economically or politically able to respond because it is bogged down in two land wars in Central Asia. They are sending a signal that they are now the dominant power in Asia and the rest of the world can expect them to be the dominant economy in the world in just 10-15 years time at current rates of growth. This will almost certainly happen sooner as the republicans who look as if they are about to come into power are determined to shrink the US government, which will almost certainly speed up the difference in infrastructure and military preparedness. If we get into it with Iran, expect the Chinese who rely heavily on Iranian oil to come into more direct conflict with the US, probably by igniting inflation in the US by pulling their underwriting of US debt instruments that are all that is propping up the US financial system presently.

        If the China Japan situation escalates our treaty obligations will draw us into it. Its unclear how the US will fare being so dependent on middle eastern oil, which can be easily shut off at the Straits of Hormuz by the Iranians and its military highly dependent on satellites for its battlefield and tactical awareness. The strategic petroleum reserve won't last long in an all out draw down. To make matters worse, just a few well coordinated EMP generating blasts in space and the US military will be largely blind. No wonder DARPA is scrambling to counter the new maneuverable Chinese killer satellites with high altitude solar aircraft. My guess is the republicans will let Japan fall to the Chinese and go into a more conciliatory mode to keep the Chinese money needed for tax breaks for billionaires safe.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Compaqt (1758360)

          Bringing oil from Iran to China involves going through the Straits of Hormuz (with US ships wandering around), past India to the Straits of Malacca (also patrolled by the US) and some other countries like Vietnam with which China is having a dispute regarding islands.

          That's why they are interested in extending a gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan to China [atimes.com]

  • Simple answer (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Niris (1443675)
    Just nuke China. I'm tired of waiting for the new Fallout game.
    • Re:Simple answer (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bsDaemon (87307) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @04:46PM (#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: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Idiomatick (976696)
        "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?
    • by melikamp (631205)

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

  • Zen Magnets (Score:4, Funny)

    by sexconker (1179573) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @04:44PM (#33680082)

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

    • by pregister (443318) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:12PM (#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 (Score:4, Informative)

      by NFN_NLN (633283) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:24PM (#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.
      • Re:Zen Magnets (Score:5, Informative)

        by AJWM (19027) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @06:11PM (#33681172) Homepage

        You're correct that rare earth elements aren't rare in the cosmic abundance sense. The original name came about because they were first isolated from a mineral only found in a particular mine in Ytterby, Sweden (hence the names of many of them: scandium (from scandanavia), yttrium, terbium, ytterbium, erbium).

        The modern "rarity" issue comes in because they all have very similar chemical properties (mostly lanthanides, plus the rest of Group 3 (III-B oldstyle) of the periodic table). They tend to occur together, and because of the similar chemical properties, are difficult to separate. Not quite as difficult as, say, uranium isotopes, but not as trivial as separating lead or zinc from mixed sulfide ores.

  • by alexismadrigal (1310087) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @04:47PM (#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.
    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:00PM (#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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TooMuchToDo (882796)

      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).

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Nerdfest (867930)
        3 is supposed to be "profit!!" and you have no question marks. Are you a business major or something?
  • 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by geekoid (135745)

      they'll be 5 dollars more expensive.

    • by MiniMike (234881)

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

  • Lead into Gold (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    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?

  • Japan is a dead rock (Score:3, Interesting)

    by L3370 (1421413) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @04:54PM (#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.
    • by DesScorp (410532) <DesScorp@NOSpam.Gmail.com> on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:27PM (#33680598) Homepage Journal

      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.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by L3370 (1421413)
        One more needs to mod this post up.

        This is exactly why I think Japan's greatest export isn't DVD players, Lexus IS350's or video games--It's the culture's desire for "Perfection." Everything they make can be done by others...and for far cheaper. The Japanese, however, seek to do it perfectly.
      • by careysub (976506) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @07:15PM (#33681934)

        ...

        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.

        Not quite. China was as advanced an wealthy a country as any in the world up to about 1800 (and far more advanced than most) - that is until the start of the Industrial Revolution. China did not "wither" until well into the 1800s when direct competition with - an invasion by - the industrializing west destroyed its economy and governmental effectiveness.

        Similarly Japan was a wealthy pre-industrial society, and successfully adapted to forced trade with the West (unlike China), shifting to become a successful industrial nation in one generation. Never were they "dirt poor".

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by couchslug (175151)

        "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."

        http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/53050/milton-ezrati/japans-aging-economics [foreignaffairs.com]

  • by Sonny Yatsen (603655) * on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:00PM (#33680294) Journal

    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.

    • by atfrase (879806) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:22PM (#33680550)
      If you think this is really just about a fishing boat, you haven't studied enough history or global politics.
      • by SplashMyBandit (1543257) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @08:48PM (#33682714)
        Yes. China has recently claimed a large part of the South China Sea right up to the Exclusive Economic Zones of many of its neighbours (Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, Philipines). Such claims are contra to the established territories and make those countries very nervous. The fishing boat was considered to be in Japanese territory (at least according to international rulings on the area). The Chinese may feel they have had a bad deal hstorically when the rulings were made, but unilaterally claiming territory currently internationally belonging to others doesn't make you many friends (eg. witness Russia annexing Abkhazia, which made sense to them but was massively counter-productive in the global scheme of things).
    • by TheEyes (1686556) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:34PM (#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.

    • by jburroug (45317) <slashdot.acerbic@org> on Thursday September 23, 2010 @06:02PM (#33681046) Homepage Journal

      You forgot the part where the captain of the fishing boat rammed a pair of Japanese coast guard vessels during the altercation which is what led to his arrest. Note that the boat itself and the crew were released promptly. The Japanese currently have the boat captain held while they determine whether or not to formerly charge him in the ramming. IIRC Japanese law gives them ten days to hold him while charges are pending and if they charge him he will be put on trial and run through their justice system just like anyone charged with a crime pretty much anywhere.

      China wants Japan to ignore their laws and release the captain. Not so much I think because they care about the captain though. Japan is holding the captain for violating their domestic laws for an act committed in their territorial waters. China is throwing a hissy fit because they also claim the islands near where this occurred and if they concede to Japan's right to try the captain in their courts they are assenting to Japan's claims of sovereignty over the islands in question. Of course it would really be a lot easier to just file an official protest with Japan, the UN and I don't know maybe the ICC protesting blah blah blah Japan's actions and then just carrying on as usual. They can still maintain their claim over the islands and instead of looking childish and irresponsible to the international community they look like a responsible grown up nation.

      Personally I'm glad to see China playing their hand so early in the game with this and other recent outbursts as it really gives lie to their whole Peaceful Rise message they try to sell to the rest of the world. Their neighbors and west are finally getting the message that China needs to be taken seriously as a rising power and a rising threat to our interests and not just a cheap place to order walmart crap from.

      Cheers,

      Josh

  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:01PM (#33680310) Homepage Journal
    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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:03PM (#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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Waffle Iron (339739)

      IMO, the 200 mile exclusive zone is stupid when applied to tiny islets. They should have originally defined the exclusive zone as something like the *lesser* of 200 miles or 10 times the distance from the center of any landmass to the shore. That would make arbitrary little rocks that stick up out of the ocean much less likely to generate conflict.

  • by coolmoose25 (1057210) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:07PM (#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.
  • Go Fe16N2! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Billy the Mountain (225541) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:10PM (#33680396) Journal

    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.

  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:11PM (#33680402) Homepage

    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.

  • Typical bad policy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SecurityGuy (217807) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:20PM (#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.

  • Can they do it? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by blind biker (1066130) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:27PM (#33680594) Journal

    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.

  • Take that (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nerdin (1330) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:40PM (#33680796)

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

  • by Aaron Denney (123626) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @06:50PM (#33681664) Homepage

    This shouldn't be called an "embargo". They're not preventing anyone else from trading with Japan, only their own nationals, and only rare earths. It's a very very narrowly targetted export ban. The problem is, it can't be effective. Someone else buys a little more in China, sells it to someone else who sells it to someone else who sells it to someone in Japan. It's fungible.

  • Not confirmed (Score:4, Informative)

    by sydneyfong (410107) on Friday September 24, 2010 @12:22AM (#33683956) Homepage Journal

    As of now, the Chinese government is denying that there is an embargo over Rare Earth exports.

    http://english.cri.cn/6826/2010/09/24/1821s596078.htm [english.cri.cn]
    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTKB00705420100924 [reuters.com]

    There might still be some element of truth to it, but all the reports are getting confusing.

  • Thank you China! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by argStyopa (232550) on Friday September 24, 2010 @07:24AM (#33685330) Journal

    ...because, you see, a lot of people have become tired of the United States. It's very fashionable right now to hate the US and highlight everything that's wrong with the American agenda. Even in the relatively short span since the end of the Cold War, and due to some relatively severe foreign-policy bungling by the last administration, much of world opinion has focused gleefully on the failings of the US as the sole remaining superpower. Much is true.

    However, any reasonable examination of a situation can only be assessed fairly when one considers the realistic alternative possibilities.

    Now, with the growth of China, Asian powers may start to recognize that perhaps the (relatively) benign incompetence of the US isn't quite so bad. Every time China throws its weight around, one might be reminded that China doesn't really have much of a history of plurality, openness, liberality, or empathy. In fact, the only times that they haven't been expansive (within their understood natural frontiers), brutal, corrupt, and oppressive is when they've been too incompetent to manage their own massive domestic failings.

    Perhaps the grass on the other side of the Pax Americana fence may not be that shimmering green that some seemed to think it was. Thanks China for doing your best to remind everyone.

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