The value of China's exports of rare earth ore, metals and compounds in January jumped nearly fivefold, or 376 per cent, from a year earlier to $148.3 million, the Nikkei reported Monday citing a report from semiofficial China Customs Statistics published over the weekend by the Hong Kong-based Economic Information & Agency.

The sharp rise in value came despite a decline in volume of 29 per cent from January of last year to just 4,087 metric tons of rare earth, the report said, adding in December, China exported 4,738 tons of rare earths.

China mines about 90 percent of the world's rare earth minerals - which is a collection of seventeen chemical elements and is used in production of various technological devices, cellular phones, high performance batteries, flat screen televisions, green energy technology.

Rare earth metals have a wide variety of applications. They are used in hybrid car motors, computer hard drives, cell phones, and wind turbines. They are also essential for military equipment, such as jet engines, smart bombs and guided missiles, lasers, radar, night vision goggles, and satellites all depend on rare earth metals to function.

Most importantly, these rare earth metals are critical to the future of hybrid and electric cars, high-tech military applications and superconductors and fiber-optic communication systems.

China, has exported 6,000 tons, or 49.8 percent, of its total rare earth to Japan, representing a 167 percent rise year on year, according to China's Ministry of Commerce.

According to the US Geological Survey's Mineral Commodities Summary, China produces approximately 97 per cent of the world's rare earth. Of the 124,000 tonnes of ore mined in the year 2009, China produced 120,000 tonnes.