Home / Opinion / China takes aim at Australian coal

China takes aim at Australian coal


And just like that, Australia’s coking coal-exporting days could be numbered. This week, Australian coking coal exports ordered by Chinese steel mills were diverted away to other countries, and the mills told to stop buying Australian coking coal, joining Beijing’s restrictions on Chinese utilities buying thermal coal, which is used in electric power generation. It’s a massive blow to the national economy and comes on the back of deteriorating political relations with Canberra following Australia’s push for an international investigation into the origins of the Coronavirus, seen in Beijing as being aimed squarely at China.

China saw Australia’s move as unfair and has retaliated by inflicting trade tantrums as punishment. The recent coal ban marks an escalation in trade tensions which follows the introduction of an 80% tariff on Australian barley imports, the banning of Australian beef, arresting an Australian journalist and an anti-dumping probe into imports of Australian wine. 

Why are we still surprised?

  • We can point the finger at politics and blame China for punishing Australia by using coal as weapon, but surely Canberra must have anticipated this move. Australia’s relationship with China was in rapid decline well before this announcement and Beijing’s goal to reduce carbon emissions is primarily caused by the burning of coal. President Jinping recently pledged that China will reach carbon neutrality before 2060 meaning the world’s biggest carbon emitter is on the path to decarbonisation. This coal ban was always going to happen. In fact, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, “Xi’s announcement came exactly one year after Morrison called for China to take on the responsibilities of a developed country on issues such as climate change.” Fast-forward to today and it seems China is doing a lot more than Australia in tackling climate change.

    Dirty trade tactics and climate change benefits aside, the potential immediate economic impact is about $14 billion-$15 billion. Longer-term, it’s around $50 billion as the plans for ten massive Australian coal mines worth more than $45 billion are at risk. It’s a hard pill to swallow but the world’s largest mining company reduced its exposure to coal in preparation for a decarbonised world. Rio Tinto  divested its interests in thermal coal back in 2018, while BHP says says that its thermal coal segment (which is only 3% of BHP’s total asset base) will be reduced, with proposed sale or demerger of the assets.

    Here is a list of all the coal stocks that have been affected:

    The move away from coal to renewables only accelerated during the Covid-19 lockdown. Renewable energy has proven to be a much cheaper and safer alternative. If we look at the numbers, China makes up roughly 23% of Australia’s thermal coal exports and 28% of coking coal exports. Its decision to ban both coking and thermal coal will see further downside risks to ASX-listed coal producers. The message is clear, burning of coal is toxic environmentally and economically. The days of coal appear to be coming to an end. 

    Print Article

    Labor’s $3m cap proposal could repeat franking credits debacle

    In the 2019 federal election, Labor’s proposal to abolish cash refunds for excess franking credits went down like a lead balloon. So, will the $3 million cap proposal see Labor revisit history?

    Kevin Pelham | 15th May 2024 | More
    Australia could pay a high economic price for an ageing China

    China needs its 1.4 billion citizens to start spending. But its ageing population is reluctant to loosen the purse strings, especially while the social security net remains inadequate.

    Nicholas Way | 8th May 2024 | More
    Surf’s up: Making waves in retirement

    Forget the bucket list. Far better to find a pursuit, whether it be a sport or hobby, which you can derive pleasure day in, day out.

    David Murphy | 23rd Apr 2024 | More