- Associated Press
Tuesday, November 23, 2010

TOKYO (AP) - China has released the first shipments to Japan of rare earth minerals used in high-tech manufacturing since a diplomatic row between the countries in September.

Japanese trade and industry minister Akihiro Ohata said Wednesday that two ships containing the minerals had left China for Japan.

Importers in Japan say shipments have been halted since September, held up in Chinese ports by increased inspections and paperwork. The export ban began after Japan arrested a Chinese fishing boat captain after his ship collided with patrol boats near disputed islands.

China currently produces 97 percent of the global supply of rare earth metals, which are crucial for the manufacturing of high-tech products such as cell phones, computer drives and hybrid cars.

Beijing has denied banning the exports.

Shaken by the threat of disruptions in supplies of rare earths, Japan is considering becoming a recycling center for the metals and is establishing partnerships with other countries in the region, including Australia, Vietnam and Mongolia, to develop new mines.

The collision in the East China Sea plunged relations between the countries to their lowest level in years, despite Japan’s eventual release of the boat captain.

China temporarily cut off ministerial-level contacts with Japan, repeatedly summoned Tokyo’s ambassador to complain, and postponed talks on the joint development of undersea natural gas fields.

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