In the midst of what’s been shaping up as an undeclared rare earths standoff between China and some of it’s biggest customers in Japan and the West, Vietnamese and Japanese leaders have decided to collaborate in the exploitation of northern Vietnam’s rare earth elements. The deal was hammered out between the two nations’ prime ministers during a meeting on Sunday.
It was disconcerting last month when industry officials reported that China had halted shipments of rare earth elements to Japan. Now, if reports in the New York Times are true, it seems the secret embargo has widened to include the U.S. and Europe. Anonymous officials claim that Chinese customs officials quietly imposed the export restrictions on Monday morning, just hours after a top Chinese trade official denounced U.S. trade actions.
In today's morning headlines comes an international tussle with wide-ranging implications: according to the New York Times, the Chinese government has ordered customs officers to halt shipments of rare earth elements to Japan.
Rare earth elements have received a good deal of attention lately, not least because they are indeed very rare, and the country holding most known reserves – China – is gobbling them up faster than it can mine them, leaving few leftovers for export. But now Boeing has announced a deal to deploy its remote sensing technology to map out possible U.S. deposits of rare earth elements in an effort to rebuild a domestic supply chain for U.S. industry.
So it turns all those hybrid car owners who turn their environmentally conscious noses up have an unexpected caveat to their green-ness--their cars are sucking up rare earth metals at a disturbing rate.
Rare earth elements take up 17 slots on the periodic table, and are named not for their overall scarcity (they're actually quite common in trace elements throughout the Earth's core) but for the relatively uncommon minerals in which they were originally found; few rare earth elements exist in pure elemental form naturally.