When a row erupted between Japan and China last year over disputed islands in the East China Sea, an unexpected consequence was a big jump in the price of rare earth elements.
The global supply of these commodities, required for a host of high-tech products including hybrid cars and smartphones, is largely controlled by China, while Japan is one of the world's leading consumers.
China is able to manage the global market because it is responsible for 97 per cent of the world's supply of rare earth elements, which are substances that can be extremely difficult and dangerous to mine. They consist of 17 metals in various forms.
Beijing's decision to halt exports of these elements to Japan after a dispute over Tokyo's arrest of a Chinese fisherman, whose vessel had collided with two Japanese coastguard boats, was accompanied by price rises that saw the cost of some rare earth elements increase sixfold.
The rise in prices has also been blamed on tighter export quotas imposed by China in the second half of last year, leading to concerns in Germany, the US and other countries, as well as Japan.
The situation is likely to remain serious, with reports indicating China has cut its export quotas for this year by as much as 35 per cent, citing its need to protect the environment, although observers believe the government's wish to protect domestic manufacturers is also a factor.
Only this week Taipei officials held talks with Beijing to try to ensure Taiwan can count on the supplies its industry needs.
Despite the apparent stranglehold China has on supply, countries that use rare earth elements in the largest quantities do have cause for optimism, as there are several factors that mean Beijing's grip on the market will, in time, lessen.
Michael Komesaroff, who has decades of experience in the industry and is now the principal of Urandaline Investments in Australia, says "China's dominance is not geologically predetermined".
Speaking on a visit this week to Beijing, Mr Komesaroff says there are "plenty of rare earths around in the world", and with prices having increased heavily, projects to mine them that were once deemed uneconomic will now be worth pursuing. That means in future the supply base is likely to become more diverse and in years to come, the proportion of known rare earth deposits held by China will decrease.
Also, as prices have risen so dramatically, manufacturers are finding ways to be more careful about how they use rare earth elements, a phenomenon known as "thrifting".
Just as aluminium cans became thinner as the price of the metal soared, so companies will learn to make better use of what rare earths are available.
Another strategy is finding alternatives and the Japanese, for example, are looking at developing synthetic rare earths, although Mr Komesaroff concedes "they've got a way to go".
So, with greater supplies in other parts of the world, and with manufacturers employing imaginative ways to get around or reduce their requirements for rare earth elements, China will in a few years time no longer be able to call the shots.