Japan has been granted rights to explore a vast area beneath international waters for rare metals, its government announced Saturday.

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) has approved Japan’s bid to explore for cobalt-rich crusts in a 3,000-square kilometer area off the coral atoll of Minamitorishima, south of Tokyo, according to the government press release.

Exclusive exploration rights of 15 years will be given to the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation over the area where rare metals such as manganese, cobalt, nickel and platinum are believed to be embedded in the seabed between 1,000 and 2,000 meters down.

The approval potentially paves the way for resource-poor Japan to cut its reliance on China for rare metals, reports AFP.

The exploration plan is “extremely significant as it can enhance the possibility of Japan’s resource development,” Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said.

China, the world’s leading supplier of rare metals and rare earths, has used it as a diplomatic leverage against Japan in a territorial row over islands in the East China Sea.