Japan trade min hears China rare earth exports halted

Fri Sep 24, 2010 6:39am GMT

By Risa Maeda and Chikako Mogi

TOKYO (Reuters) - China's trade ministry has told exporters of rare earth metals to halt shipments to Japan, Japan's trade minister said on Friday, citing information from importers.

But Beijing has told Tokyo there was no official embargo, Akihiro Ohata, head of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), told reporters on Friday.

The comment comes after a New York Times report that China has banned exports of rare earth metals to Japan, amid escalating tensions between Asia's two largest economies.

The two sides are locked in a dispute over Japan's detention of a Chinese fishing boat captain whose trawler collided earlier this month with a Japanese patrol boat, while Japan confirmed on Friday that four Japanese nationals had been detained in China on suspicion of violating Chinese law.

"China has not done anything like an official embargo. That's what we've heard from China's trade ministry," Ohata said.

"We've heard from trading firms that is happening, so we're checking what's going on," he said, referring to the reported rare earth export halt.

Rare earth elements have a variety of technological and industrial applications, including in batteries, computers and weapon systems.

"We've heard that there is no suspension upon any other country. This is only my guess yet, but I suspect the island dispute might have affected (the situation)," Ohata said at a regular news conference.   Continued...

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