Tokyo and Riyadh ready to sign a deal on rare earths

Japan’s prime minister is on a tour of the Middle East, where he will meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Like Japan, the Saudi kingdom is interested in reducing its dependence on minerals imported from China. Sources say the two countries will sign a memorandum tomorrow.

Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman are expected to agree to a series of joint investments to develop rare earths, Nikkei Asia reports.

For Japan, this is part of its efforts to reduce reliance on China for key minerals. To this end, Kishida is currently in Saudi Arabia, part of a Mideast tour.

Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the state-backed Japan Organisation for Metals and Energy Security (JOGMEC) and Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources will soon sign a memorandum of cooperation.

This will allow Japan and Saudi Arabia to explore resource development projects in third countries; this is especially important since rare earths are key elements in making the batteries of electric vehicles, semiconductors, mobile phones, and wind turbines.

As part of its strategy, Saudi Arabia is looking for rare earths on its own territory. JOGMEC will contribute technical knowhow to preliminary surveys.

Japan currently relies on China for nearly 80 per cent of its lithium hydroxide supply and more than 60 per cent of its cobalt processing.

In 2010, China restricted its export of rare earths to Japan when Chinese and Japanese vessels ships collided near the Senkaku Islands, which Japan administers but which China claims and calls Diaoyu.

Kishida’s trip to the Middle East will continue until next Tuesday. Over the next three days, he will meet with the leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, with whom he will discuss energy cooperation and other issues.

The Gulf monarchies are Japan's main suppliers of oil and gas. Tokyo has said that it is ready to provide advanced technologies to reduce these countries' carbon dioxide emissions.