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Korea, China to collaborate on rare earths processing

State-run Korea Resources Corp. said Thursday that it is to jointly develop technologies for processing rare earths with a Chinese think tank.

The local developer said it will share equipment, facilities, human resources and technological information with Baotou Research Institute of Rare Earths, the largest of its kind in the communist state.

KORES chief executive Kim Shin-jong and the institute’s president Yang Zhan Feng signed a deal containing these and other cooperation plans in Baotou City, Inner Mongolia.

The institute is located in the city which is known to have the largest amount of rare earth reserves in China.

“Korea has so far been importing rare earths in the form of secondary or completed products from China, Japan and Europe due to its deficiency of leading processing technology,” Kim said.

“The joint research with China would be an opportunity for us to boost our capability.”

Local Research Institute for Industrial Science & Technology and private firms including POSCO and Aju Group will participate in the project, according to KORES.

KORES has been working to improve processing technology for raw rare earths, rather than relying on importing processed ones, in order to reduce costs and foster expertise.

The developer’s latest move comes as the country has been striving to ensure a stable energy supply amid ever-intensifying international competition regarding resources.

The Korean government pledged last month to increase its rare earth reserves to around 1,500 tons by 2014.

It has been trying to achieve the goal by finding alternative markets to China which currently provides 97 percent, or 124,000 tons, of the global supply of rare earths.

China has been curbing its annual rare earth export quotas since 2006, particularly in the last two years, and using them as a virtual diplomatic weapon.

In February, the communist state tightened its grasp on its rare earths industry by integrating production and restricting illegal mining.

In addition to efforts of state-run developers including KORES making entries to the African and South American markets, local conglomerates such as Hyundai Motor Group and POSCO have been stepping up projects seeking such materials as well.

By Koh Young-aah (youngaah@heraldcorp.com)
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