China assured U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday that it would be a "reliable supplier" of exotic metals key to the global high-tech industry, U.S. officials said.
The officials said Clinton raised the matter with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on the sidelines of a summit of East Asian leaders in Vietnam. Clinton "sought clarification on the Chinese government's policy on the export of rare earth minerals and received assurances," the official said.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a private diplomatic conversation, said Yang told Clinton that China would not use rare earths as a diplomatic, political or economic tool in dealing with other countries and that Beijing did not want their export to become an issue in its foreign relations.
One official said Yang told Clinton that China would remain a "reliable supplier" of the minerals.
There was no immediate comment from Chinese officials but China said earlier this week said that it would not use the exports of rare earths as a political bargaining chip.
Recent Chinese restrictions on the sale of rare earths have drawn international concern and prompted calls for nations to diversify the production of the minerals, which are needed to produce items such as cell phones, missiles and solar energy panels.
China now produces 97 percent of the world's supply after most of the industrialized world, including the United States, Japan and Europe, largely abandoned their production in favor of cheaper Chinese exports.
Earlier in Hawaii, Clinton said Chinese export restrictions imposed on Japan in the midst of a deepening territorial dispute were a "wake-up call" for the world to find additional sources of rare earths.
Japanese companies say Beijing has blocked rare earths shipments to Japan since Sept. 21 after a Chinese fishing boat captain was detained near disputed islands. The captain was later released but Japanese authorities say supplies have yet to resume.