China will continue to protect its rare earth resources while working to solve disputes with other countries on its rare earth policies within the World Trade Organization (WTO) framework, an official with China’s industry watchdog said Wednesday.
“In any case, the Chinese government will surely provide reasonable protection for rare earth resources and ensure environmental protection and sustainable development while making use of the resources,” Zhu Hongren, chief engineer of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, told a press conference Wednesday in Beijing.
The remarks came after the WTO on Monday established a panel to consider China’s exports of rare earths, tungsten and molybdenum following complaints brought by the United States, the European Union (EU) and Japan over China’s export restrictions of those materials.
Zhu said China is willing to hold discussions and carry out full consultations within the WTO framework to solve the disputes.
He reiterated that the country’s stepped up regulation on rare earth production and exports were aimed at protecting the environment from being damaged by reckless exploitation, not monopolizing the market.
“Some countries with rich rare earth resources have not mined their own land for environment protection or other reasons, but made groundless accusations against China and repeatedly ignored the widely-known pollution caused by rare earth exploitation in the country,” Zhu claimed.
Rare earth metals are vital for manufacturing an array of high-tech products, including cell phones, wind turbines, electric car batteries and missiles.
China supplies more than 90 percent of the world’s demand for rare earth metals, although its reserves account for just 23 percent of the world’s total. The mining of rare earth metals has been blamed for environmental damage in some parts of China.
China has suspended the issuance of new licenses for rare earth prospecting and mining, imposed production caps and export quotas, and announced tougher environmental standards in order to reduce the environmental damage caused by rare earth exploitation.