Share this on Twitter Share this on Facebook Share this on LinkedIn Share this on Sina Weibo Share this on Wechat Share this on LinkedIn A rare earth ingot, photographed in China in 2013.Credit: Sim Chi Yin via Magnum On an early September morning 10 years ago, the Chinese fishing trawler Minjinyun 5179 collided with a Japanese Coast Guard patrol boat in the East China Sea. The trawler had been fishing near disputed territory controlled by Japan known as the Senkaku islands, or Diaoyu in Chinese. Beijing had been increasingly hawkish towards numerous contested territories, but a long-standing animosity between the two countries made the Senkakus a particularly fiery flashpoint. The Japanese Coast Guard detained the crew of Minjinyun, incensing Beijing and setting off a series of intense anti-Japan demonstrations across China. The diplomatic fallout outlasted the fishermen’s release when, in what many saw as a retaliation, Beijing blocked all exports to Japan of one of the most critical materials of the modern world: rare earths. Rare earths are the pixie dust of modern technologies. With tongue-twister names like dysprosium, yttrium, and praseodymium, they comprise 17 elements oSubscribe or login to read the rest. Subscribers get full access to: Exclusive longform investigative journalism, Q&As, news and analysis, and data on Chinese business elites and corporations. We publish China scoops you won't find anywhere else. A weekly curated reading list on China from David Barboza, Pulitzer Prize-winning former Shanghai correspondent for The New York Times. A daily roundup of China finance, business and economics headlines. We offer discounts for groups, institutions and students. Go to our Subscriptions page for details.