China Now Has Even Less Leverage Over Japan
China's resource weapon blows up in its face as Japan makes huge rare earths discovery.
Ever since China imposed an export ban on critical rare earth minerals to Japan (minerals Japan's high-tech industry feeds on for products such as GPS chips and solar panels), China has seen its resource weapon lose considerable potency. Even after lifting the ban in 2010, China has not recouped its lost shipments. In 2012, Japanese imports of Chinese rare earths fell to their lowest level in 10 years thanks to Japan's efforts to diversify sources, recycle more aggressively and use alternatives.
Now things are about to get worse for China.
According to Reuters, Japanese researchers have found "astronomically high levels" of rare earths in the ground near an island Southeast of Tokyo. (The thing with "rare" earths, as RCW contributor Daniel McGroarty has explained, is that they aren't rare at all.)
Of course, these resources aren't immediately exploitable, but they do bolster Japan's ability to insulate itself from resource-bullying. It also underscores just how foolish it is for states to wield resource weapons in the first place. The importers, like Japan, suffer in the short-term but over the long-term, it's the producing states that wind up hurting the most as alternative measures are implemented.