Japan to Boost Cooperation with Africa on Critical Minerals to Strengthen Economic Security, Supply Chain

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Preparations for rare earth development are believed to be underway at a mine in Guangdong Province, China, in March.

The government will strengthen cooperation with African countries to ensure a stable supply of minerals such as cobalt — a material necessary to produce electric vehicles and other items.

China is continuing to acquire interests in the development of cobalt and other minerals in Africa. From an economic security perspective, the government will encourage Japanese companies to develop mines and acquire interests in the continent.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura was scheduled to begin a visit to six African nations on Sunday. During the tour, he plans to sign a relevant joint statement with Zambia and Namibia, respectively.

Zambia is a copper producer, and the production of cobalt is also a possibility. The government will support the country’s mine exploration efforts with the use of Japanese satellites. In Namibia, which has the potential to produce rare earths, Japan will cooperate with the country in establishing a supply chain from mining to distribution.

Japan Organization for Metals and Energy Security will also sign a work plan with the Democratic Republic of Congo, the world’s largest producer of cobalt ore.

The global trend toward decarbonization has intensified the battle to secure resources essential for the production of EV motors and batteries. China has a large share of rare earth production and is also acquiring overseas mining interests one after another.

Regarding cobalt, Chinese companies are actively investing in Africa, particularly in DR Congo, and acquiring mining interests. China can import ore for smelting, due partly to its lax environmental regulations, thereby gaining a majority global market share and increasing its presence.

China restricts trade with countries and regions over which it is at odds with diplomatically. Such tactics are seen as economic coercion and have become problematic. Under such circumstances, many have voiced concerns about the security risks of the growing dependence on China for minerals essential for high-tech products, EV batteries and wind power generation equipment.

Due to concerns over China’s aggressive approach to development projects, it is believed that there is growing momentum among African countries to expand their export destinations and partners for cooperation beyond China.

Japan intends to strengthen the supply chain for critical minerals through technical cooperation, among other approaches.