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Renewed tensions between China and Japan recall 2010 rare earths crisis

by Greg Klein | June 9, 2016

A territorial conflict in the East China Sea flared up again as Japan protested a Chinese warship entering disputed waters. Japan’s vice foreign minister formally objected to the Chinese ambassador on June 8, according to Reuters.

Renewed tensions between China and Japan recall 2010 rare earths crisis

China’s defence ministry defended its actions, telling the news agency, “Chinese naval ships sailing through waters our country has jurisdiction over is reasonable and legal. No other country has the right to make thoughtless remarks about this.”

The dispute concerns islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, Reuters added. Coastguard vessels from both countries enter the area regularly, but this is the first visit by a Chinese warship, the agency stated.

A September 2010 incident in the same waters set off a supply crisis for rare earths. Japan arrested a Chinese fishing captain after he twice rammed his boat against a Japanese naval vessel. China responded by cutting off rare earths exports to Japan, pushing REE prices as high as 3,000%, recalls Commerce Resources TSXV:CCE president Chris Grove.

With a rare earths project in northern Quebec and a tantalum-niobium project in British Columbia, he follows geopolitical issues affecting critical supply and demand. Grove says the recent incident reflects a larger problem of “simmering animosity towards the Japanese, which is being stoked by the Chinese government,” as well as the country’s nationalist aggression towards its other neighbours.

“Probably all Chinese governments since 1939 have been more than willing to remind their people about Japan and the Rape of Nanking. From all my time in China, I find it jaw-dropping how often the government, through their media, exhort the people of China to remember Nanking.”

Grove considers China’s 2010 actions “nothing short of brilliant, using a really small geopolitical incident to unilaterally cut off supplies of rare earth elements to Japan, and that’s the world’s second-biggest market. Japan was completely screwed. It brings to mind the tools China has at its disposal.”

Around the same time as the Chinese navy’s June 8 incursion, three Russian naval vessels also sailed near the disputed islands, “raising concern in Japan of a co-ordinated show of force by Beijing and Moscow,” Reuters stated.

One day earlier the U.S. said a Chinese fighter jet confronted an American spy plane at an “unsafe, excessive speed” in international airspace over the East China Sea, the Wall Street Journal reported. It was the second encounter of its kind in a month.

The 2010 incident inspired David S. Abraham’s book The Elements of Power: Gadgets, Guns, and the Struggle for a Sustainable Future in the Rare Metal Age.

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