I was reading in the Sunday edition of the Jōmō Shimbun...
(When I am in the chihō I always pick up the local newspaper. As local papers are only 100 yen, it is hard to regret the purchase. You learn stuff too.)
...that the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry has scored a major coup for its clients. In a plan that seems fairly sure to clear the Finance Ministry gauntlet, the Ministry will be funneling financing to companies in order that they may invest in overseas mining projects in pursuit of non-ferrous metals.
I have mixed feelings about this plan. The memory of the vast sums expended and tiny rewards derived from MITI's oil exploration shenanigans should be warning off the bureaucrats from ever, ever attempting strategic resource extraction investments. However, the concentration of the mining of important metals and minerals in countries with real chips on their shoulders - and yes I am speaking about Russia and China -- as well as in countries where Japanese companies find themselves getting shoved aside by a coordinated aid/trade/finance/military sales push from China, pinning one's hopes on "the market" providing Japanese companies with materials at competitive prices seems somewhat naive. Even though the government has a lousy track record, lowering the barriers for companies to invest in the development of reserves in less politically fraught countries seems a least-worst option.
Not being an expert in mining or the resource trade, I find it hard to come to any sort of conclusion on the plan.
It was serendipitous to be reading the story as an article in the Jōmō Shimbun whilst on my way to Kiryū. The bulk of northeast Kantō Region's wealth in the 19th and early 20th centuries was generated by the silk trade, centered in Tomioka and Kiryū. However, the area's other major industry was copper mining -- at the giant Ashio copper mine located on the upper reaches of the Watarase River.
Japan apologists have had a bad habit of defending dumb Japanese government and Japanese company decisions on the basis of "as we all know Japan is a resource-poor country." This demonstrates a willfull blindness toward the contributions Japan's gold, silver and copper mines made to the global economy, particularly the use of copper for coins.
Later - Here a Japan Network News article on the METI plan (in J only).