TOKYO — Japan plans to mine in Vietnam for rare earth metals used in high-tech manufacturing in a bid to reduce its dependence on China, which virtually monopolizes the global supply of the strategic materials, officials said Friday.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung are expected to agree on the proposed deal in Hanoi later this month, a trade ministry official said.
Japanese Trade Minister Akihiro Ohata said Vietnam has a promising potential for rare earths production, and Tokyo wants to jointly work with Hanoi on the exotic metals.
Rare earths are crucial in advanced manufacturing such as computer disk drives, mobile phones and hybrid car components. China produces some 97 percent of the world's supply of rare earths.
Trade Ministry official Hideyuki Wakutsu said Japan and Vietnam will set up a joint venture to mine rare earths in the Southeast Asian country. He gave no further details.
With the mining deal in Vietnam, Wakutsu said Japan wants to reduce its dependence on China for rare earth supplies. Around 60 percent of China's rare earth shipments go to Japan, he said.
"It is too risky to depend on one country for crucial material supplies," Wakutsu said. He declined to comment on whether the deal with Vietnam is linked to China's ban on rare earth shipments.