China Denies Blocking Rare Earths Exports

BEIJING (AP) -- China on Friday denied blocking shipments of rare earths -- crucial for advanced manufacturing -- to Japan or other countries but said it is limiting exports to protect its environment.

Japanese companies say China's exports of rare earths, exotic minerals used in mobile phones and other high-tech products, were suspended around Sept. 21. The two governments were embroiled in a spat over the detention of a Chinese fishing boat captain near disputed islands.

"China will not take blockading measures toward rare earths exports," said Commerce Ministry spokesman Yao Jian at a regular news briefing. "We will achieve mutually beneficial cooperation between China and Japan, as well as other countries, in rare earths."

The halt to shipments came after Japan's Sept. 8 arrest of the Chinese captain, whose trawler collided with two Japanese patrol vessels near disputed islands in the East China Sea. The captain was later released but a government survey of Japanese importers last weekend found shipments were still stalled.

Beijing announced last year it would reduce rare earths exports to conserve resources and reduce environmental damage from mining. China has about 30 percent of global rare earths deposits but accounts for 97 percent of production.

"The basic goal is to protect the environment," Yao said. "China's restrictions on rare earths mining, production and exports is in line with international standards and domestic law."

The threat of disruption to its manufacturers has shaken Japan, which is considering becoming a rare earth recycling center and is working with Mongolia to develop new rare earth mines.