China and its insatiable hunger for natural resources is a well-documented fact. In its quest to monopolise and eventually weaponise the entire rare earth metal segment, China has been foraying into the resource-rich islands of Japan. However, Tokyo has had enough of Beijing’s belligerence and it has now started to bat on the front foot. According to news reports, Japan Coast Guard recently announced it would deploy the 180-ton patrol vessel Mikazuki to the Ogasawara Islands in the coming months and will also increase the number of officers stationed there.
It is pertinent to note that in the year 2018, an estimated 16 million metric tons of rare earth elements—enough to fulfil global demands potentially for hundreds of years on a semi-infinite basis—were discovered in Japanese waters near Minami-Torishima, an island in the aforementioned Ogasawara Island group located about 1,800 kilometres southeast of Tokyo.
China has had its eyes set on the islands for a long time since then. As a result, in addition to the patrol vessel, the Japanese government has increased the fines from 10 million yen (USD 94,782) to 30 million yen (USD 284,347), while the fine for refusing an inspection has risen from 300,000 yen (USD 2,843) to 3 million yen (USD 28,434).
Another disputed island named Okinotorishima is also on the radar of the Chinese PLA-Navy. Last year, in the month of January, Tokyo lodged a protest against Beijing through diplomatic channels after a ship operated by China’s State Oceanic Administration was monitored around Okinotorishima.
Presently, China accounts for 70 per cent of the global production in rare earth metals. Chinese monopoly in any sector of the global economy is detrimental to the entire humankind. The Communist hardliners in China have been instigating Beijing to weaponise its monopoly by cutting the US off the rare earth minerals supply. CCP mouthpiece Global Times even called Chinese monopoly in rare earth minerals “an ace in Beijing’s hand”
Sensing that China was using its monopoly in the rare earth metals portfolio to its advantage, the former US President Donald Trump in October last year signed an order declaring a national emergency in the American mining industry. The executive order was aimed at boosting the domestic production of rare earth metals critical for military technologies while cutting dependence on the paper dragon.
The executive order had stated that the country’s “undue reliance on critical minerals, in processed or unprocessed form, from foreign adversaries constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat, which has its source in substantial part outside the United States, to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”
Rare earth metals are an extremely crucial component in the production of smartphones, semiconductors, satellites, and electric vehicles (EVs).
As reported by TFI, even Russia is planning an investment of $1.5 billion in rare earth elements. In fact, Kremlin is looking to make Russia the second-biggest producer of these minerals by 2030 to keep China and its belligerence in check.
Japan seizing on the initiative by stationing a patrol ship to counter the Chinese is a step in the right direction. If the Quad or the new world order, with or without Biden’s USA is to take on China, then its monopoly in every single sector needs to be challenged and a dogged Tokyo is doing just that.