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Technology

Japan to lift stockpiles of metals for EVs, wary of China's clout

Tokyo looks to secure access to lithium, cobalt and rare earths

Cobalt, which is essential for lithium batteries, is one of the materials that the Japanese government will seek to increase stockpiles of.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japan will expand its reserves of metals crucial to the production of electric vehicles and high-tech gadgets, aiming to keep pace with rising demand and ensure access as China gains increasing control over global supplies.

China provides nearly 60% of Japan's imports for these often-rare minerals, and international competition to secure such resources is heating up. Companies tied to Chinese interests account for over 30% of cobalt production in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the world's largest supplier of the metal essential for lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles.

Tokyo now keeps 60-day supplies of vital materials such as lithium, cobalt, nickel and rare earths. The trade ministry will revise regulations for the state-owned Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. in order to raise stockpiles to undisclosed levels and to permit the ministry to participate those operations of the resources entity, known as Jogmec.

China essentially restricted outbound shipments of rare-earth minerals through export duties in the past, sparking disputes with trade partners and prompting Japan, the U.S. and European Union to launch a successful World Trade Organization case several years ago.

Today, Beijing promotes electric vehicles as a national project, and Japan worries that the neighbor might control supplies of the essential materials.

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