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2011年7月 8日 (金)

社説:レアアース紛争 中国頼みを減らせ

(Mainichi Japan) July 7, 2011
Japan should rely less on China for rare earths
社説:レアアース紛争 中国頼みを減らせ

A World Trade Organization panel dealing with trade disputes has upheld claims made by the United States, Europe and Mexico that China is unjustly restricting exports of nine types of mineral resources -- including magnesium and bauxite, as well as the rare metal manganese.

The accusers have pointed out China's restrictions on the amounts of exports of these resources and that export duties on them present major problems.

As China is enjoying rapid economic growth, it is stepping up its controls on domestic natural resources, causing international friction.

Japan has complained that China limits the exports of rare earth minerals, which are indispensable for the manufacturing of high-tech products, sets their prices on the international market higher than their domestic prices, and has urged that the situation be rectified.

Japan brought up the issue during recent bilateral foreign ministerial talks but no progress was made in the dispute over the matter.

The WTO panel dismissed China's argument that it enforces restrictions on the exports of mineral resources in order to protect the environment in line with WTO guidelines and to preserve its domestic natural resources.

The dispute is feared to be prolonged as Beijing appears to be considering an appeal of the panel's decision.

China, which fears that its regime could be shaken if the country's rapid economic growth slows down, is placing top priority on securing all kinds of natural resources.

Rare earth minerals are being recklessly mined in China due partly to conflicts of interest between the national government and regional communities, which is feared to have caused serious environmental contamination.

Under the circumstances, China is highly unlikely to immediately bow to any international pressure including that from individual countries and from the WTO.

Nevertheless, Japan as well as other countries should patiently try to convince China that abiding by international rules will bring benefits to it in the long run.

At the same time, however, Japan needs to minimize its reliance onChina for rare earth minerals.

China produces 97 percent of rare earths consumed all over the world. Still, Beijing is aggressively trying to acquire rare earth exploitation rights overseas.

Furthermore, many countries in the world are scrambling to secure not only rare earths but also all kinds of mineral resources.

Since the international competition over such resources is intensifying, Japan cannot just sit by idly and do nothing.

Fortunately, Japan has advanced technology that uses sensors mounted on satellites and aircraft to locate mineral resources.

Offering the technology to other countries will be highly effective in acquiring such resources.

In fact, Japan has been successful in doing so in the development of natural resources in Botswana, which has led to friendly relations between the two countries.

Such efforts will certainly help Japan differentiate itself from its competitors and contribute to developing countries.

It is hoped that Japan will step up its efforts to that end.

A team comprised of researchers from the University of Tokyo's Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute and other organizations has discovered a huge mineral deposit that contains rare earths on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

Its depth -- 3,500 to 6,000 meters -- will likely pose a technical challenge to exploitation.

Since the deposit is situated on the high seas, Japan will need to gain consent from relevant countries to mine it.

Even though there are expected to be numerous challenges to mining the deposit, it is viewed as a promising prospect.

As the country that discovered the mineral deposit, Japan should take the initiative in exploiting it.

毎日新聞 2011年7月7日 東京朝刊


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