Beijing: As US sought an explanation on restrictions imposed by China for the export of rare earth metals, a vital component for numerous high-tech industries, Beijing has said it will not use them as a diplomatic “bargaining tool”.
China, the largest exporter of the metals, also said that its measures to restrict the exploitation, production and export of rare earths are in line with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
Zhu Hongren, spokesman for the ministry of industry and information technology, said, “China will not use rare earths as an instrument for bargaining”.
“Instead, we hope to cooperate with other countries in the use of rare earths on the basis of win-win outcomes and jointly protect the non-renewable resource,” he said.
Zhu made the remarks after US secretary of state Hillary Clinton yesterday said that it would welcome any clarification of China’s stance on rare earths and encourage countries affected to “seek additional supplies”.
China has cut export quotas for rare earths, vital for the production of a range of high-tech products saying that its reserves slumped, due in part to smuggling.
There were earlier reports that it would further cut quotas next year, but the ministry of commerce denied the reports, state-run China Daily reported.
Zhu defended the restrictions on rare earth exports, saying that they are for long-term development.
During the past few months some countries, such as Japan, have expressed fears over China slashing exports next year. The US and European Union said earlier this week that they were pressing for solutions.
The issue is expected to be discussed at next month’s G-20 summit in South Korea.
Rare earth metals are comprised of 17 elements and are vital in the production of high-tech products such as lasers, missiles, computers and superconductors.
China has 36% of the world’s rare earths but supplies about 97% of world demand, pointing to an obvious over-exploitation.
The US accounts for 13%and Russia 19%of global reserves, but they have largely stopped production since they can import the minerals from China at low prices while protecting their own stocks and environment, Chinese analysts said.
Japan, meanwhile, has imported large amounts of the minerals from China and kept part of the imports as “rainy day” reserves.