Coal Price 02/12/2021. Source Y Charts

With Prices Rising, Is the Chinese Aussie Coal Embargo About to Crack?

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

h/t observa; As Chinese producers beg their government for relief, China has offered for “humanitarian” reasons to allow Australian coal ships to offload in Chinese ports.

Did China just blink on its Aussie coal ban? ASX energy shares in the spotlight

Bernd Struben

As we’re enjoying a comfortably warm summer in Australia – it’s 37 degrees outside my window in the Adelaide Hills today – spare a thought for the many shivering Chinese people. Not to mention some of China’s steel makers, watching the quality of their product deteriorate.

As the Wall Street Journal reports: “China’s central government made the embargo official at a mid-December meeting with major Chinese electricity producers, who are big buyers of thermal coal.”

As Atilla Widnell, managing director of Navigate Commodities, told the South China Morning Post: “China’s punitive economic measures are causing self-inflicted wounds.”

Did Beijing just blink?

China plans to allow some stranded Australian coal shipments to unload despite ongoing curbs on imports, a move aimed at showing goodwill to countries with seafarers stuck on the vessels, a person familiar with the situation said.

The measure doesn’t mean China is loosening its ban on Australian coal imports and it’s uncertain if the deliveries will be cleared by customs…

Read more:

I suspect this entire sorry episode is going to prove a serious and possibly fatal blow to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s leadership.

As Australia shrugs off the impact of Chinese embargoes, Xi Jinping’s overreach and arrogance is causing Chinese industries to haemorrhage millions, perhaps billions of dollars.

China, for all their talk of green energy, is still utterly dependent on carbon intensive coal, including coal imports from Australia. China’s humiliating failed attempt to pretend otherwise has only served to highlight China’s weakness.

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February 12, 2021 10:14 am

“Did Beijing just blink?” Yes. They can’t afford …. politically and economically …. to anger the populace.

Reply to  markl
February 12, 2021 11:16 am

Mao had no difficulty seeing 100 million of his people die of starvation, thanks to his own policies. George Orwell understood: “One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes a revolution in order to establish a dictatorship.”. Xi Jinping has implemented the most comprehensive population control measures that the world has ever seen, with the one overriding aim of preserving his own power. We can only hope that the long-suffering Chinese people can get a better outcome this time. It surely won’t be easy.

Bryan A
Reply to  Mike Jonas
February 12, 2021 7:39 pm

Perhaps Australia should turn their coal fleet around and let China wallow in their own Cheap Solar Panels and Mao-functioning wind turbines for energy

Reply to  Bryan A
February 13, 2021 7:27 am

The coal isn’t owned or controlled by Australian companies anymore most contracts are FOB Australia and it is a matter between the shipping agent and it’s insurer.

Shoki Kaneda
February 12, 2021 10:42 am

Like all despots, CCP fear the people.

Larry in Texas
Reply to  Shoki Kaneda
February 12, 2021 2:42 pm

Interesting stuff. But only if the Chinese army (PLA) and secret police force is freezing along with the ordinary Chinese person. Given the nature of the Chinese system and the nature of the broad control the CCP has exercised over the Chinese people since Mao’s death in 1976, nothing will happen until the military and secret police make it happen.

Andy Espersen
Reply to  Shoki Kaneda
February 12, 2021 9:34 pm

Nothing new here : 2000 years of history has taught Chinese governments always to fear the people.

Paul Jenkinson
Reply to  Shoki Kaneda
February 12, 2021 10:40 pm

Just look at “the most popular President ever elected”Biden surrounded by National Guard in Washington

February 12, 2021 11:02 am

Frozen people don’t protest that much.

February 12, 2021 11:13 am

Interesting that state run coal mines plead with their government to reduce the pressure on them, while commercial enterprises in Australia would borrow money, buy equipment, pay more for labor…whatever it takes to fill the demand. A statement about systemic philosophies. I wonder which one results in more people having electricity (/s).

Reply to  DMacKenzie
February 12, 2021 5:07 pm

Unless mines are planned for more output it is near impossible to squeeze more out of them. Pushing harder causes failures that actually reduce output.

When safety comes second, the problems mount and output goes down:

BEIJING (AP) — China’s southwestern megacity of Chongqing has ordered a crackdown on breaches of mine safety following last week’s deaths of 23 workers in one of the country’s worst recent mining disasters.

Australia has spent more than a decade trying to get a new mine started. So it not a good example of just cranking up production.

Read more:  Southwest China City Cracks Down after Deaths of 23 Miners | 

Joseph Zorzin
February 12, 2021 11:27 am

Off subject- sorry- but, the state of Massachusetts climate czar just got fired for saying:

“turn the screws” on residents and “break their will, so they stop emitting.”

Shoki Kaneda
Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
February 12, 2021 12:59 pm

A gaffe in government is inadvertently telling the truth.

Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
February 12, 2021 1:00 pm

For saying it is time to “turn the screws” on residents and “break their will, so they stop emitting” and “We have to break your will. Right, I can’t even say that publicly” Ismay “apologizes” with this gem:

My inability to clearly communicate during that discussion reflected poorly on the governor, on you, and on our hardworking staff.

It seems he accidentally communicated very clearly what most Leftists think; what they are loathe to say publicly because they know it’s extremely unpopular with people who aren’t deranged, which is the vast majority of Americans.

Which illustrates two big problems: Leftists know that what they believe is crazy to most Americans, yet they doggedly cling to it with no trace of introspection, no consideration that they might be wrong. And the only reason that such a small minority—probably much less than a third of the voting constituency—has so much influence on policymaking is because they are aided and abetted by an ignorant, like-minded media and because they are hugely over-represented in government, both elected and bureaucratic. We need more right-thinking people in media and government.

Larry in Texas
Reply to  stinkerp
February 12, 2021 2:49 pm

I hate to say this, but the Left that you refer to is also aided and abetted by an ignorant population that consistently fails to question what they are told or look around to see what is happening in this country. As a result, they end up voting Democrat out of sheer hatred or sheer exasperation because of the chaos the Left and the Democrats create.

That means that this is not just a “small minority” now (as if one-third of the American population is “small,” either). You just need to be prepared for a much harder battle in the next two years.

Ed Zuiderwijk
Reply to  stinkerp
February 13, 2021 1:54 am

The perfect defense for the president. ‘My inability to clearly communicate during that speech reflected poorly … etc’.

Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
February 13, 2021 2:22 am

This is the classic statement made by politicians.
When people don’t like what the politician is saying they are countered with ‘you haven’t understood what I have said’.
Yes we do understand, and we don’t go along with it.

Reply to  stinkerp
February 13, 2021 9:15 am

He communicated alright; and now more spin.

Reply to  stinkerp
February 13, 2021 9:29 am

It wasn’t an accident. It was a political Blunder- actually saying out loud what you mean in an intelligible public, recorded session!
Of course, this fellow seemed to be an inexperienced politician. A pro would have said the same thing in completely unintelligible politicese that only an experienced politician can understand!.

Burgher King
Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
February 12, 2021 1:18 pm

What a surprise. A climate czar gets cancelled for telling the truth; i.e., it’s the average working man and woman who pays the bill for climate action policies.

a happy little debunker
February 12, 2021 12:49 pm

We have bigger problems than coal exports now…

Thanks to the current climate craziness America is poised to ban all imports of Kangaroo meat and products.

(US Congress to consider ban on kangaroo skin and meat, putting Australian industry at risk – ABC News)

For some reason misguided Americans think an animal that out populates people (in it’s locality), at a rate of 2 to one, needs protection – because of some ‘climate inspired’ bushfire concerns.

Wallaby Geoff
Reply to  a happy little debunker
February 12, 2021 1:33 pm

The irony of that is that kangaroos prefer open spaces to the bush, I have them on the lawn outside my window as I write this. More open space is being created by humans and the roos are thriving.
Not to mention farmers crops – they eat those and thrive too.
The greens will if permitted, pull down western society, and then realise their mistake when Venezuela conditions become the norm.

Chris Nisbet
Reply to  Wallaby Geoff
February 12, 2021 1:42 pm

Do you really think they’ll realise their mistake?

John in Oz
Reply to  Chris Nisbet
February 12, 2021 5:11 pm

Yes, but they won’t admit it publicly.

Reply to  Chris Nisbet
February 13, 2021 9:20 am

No; they’ll keep blaming the people

Pat from kerbob
Reply to  Chris Nisbet
February 14, 2021 12:51 pm

There is no mistake
It’s all very purposeful

Reply to  Wallaby Geoff
February 12, 2021 4:27 pm

Wallaby Geoff, the greens won’t admit to anything. If Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez here in the US is any indication, they will double down on their orthodoxy. The greens are more like the Church from centuries long ago.

Reply to  a happy little debunker
February 12, 2021 1:34 pm

It’s more that city dwellers, who have never met an animal bigger than a rat, think kangaroos are cute. The idea of other people eating cute animals drives their small minds crazy.
It’s the same reason why eating horsemeat is banned in much of the US.

Reply to  MarkW
February 13, 2021 4:55 am

the stupid oft said
but but you cant eat your national symbol is just sooo annoying
roos n emus are on the coat of arms cos they were weird and the pommys used em instead of platypus n echidnas which they hadnt seen enough/any of ,at the time;-)

Wales uses a Leek as a symbol but they dont avoid eating Leek soup etc do they

Reply to  a happy little debunker
February 13, 2021 4:48 am

saw that and swore
2 morons with NO idea at all about roos being in near plague proportions in many places think using the skins/hides of roos killed for pet n human tucker is a bad thing?
well we could use em for fertiliser but making excellent leather seems more eco sane

February 12, 2021 1:32 pm

“As we’re enjoying a comfortably warm summer in Australia”


Actually, while Australia has had a few days of “normal” mid-high 30s temperature (on the East Coast), it has actually been a pretty “ordinary” summer.

UAH Australia for instance, shows a negative anomaly for January.

And around here its below average temperature this month

Raining again today.

February 12, 2021 1:41 pm

Just how much does China depend on coal from Australia ?

comment image

Larry in Texas
Reply to  fred250
February 12, 2021 3:06 pm

Wow, thanks for the info, fred250. Now that the CCP has stepped in it, maybe the Aussies should help things along by allowing a strategic boycott of its own regarding coal exports to China. I’m sure there are some other nations around Asia who need some of that coal right now.

Reply to  Larry in Texas
February 12, 2021 5:17 pm

A real embargo would be on iron ore. Australia provides half of the ore used in Chinese steel production. Take that away and it would have serious consequences for industry in China and likely precipitate a prompt and full takeover of Australia. Taiwan would go onto the back burner.

David Archibald
Reply to  fred250
February 12, 2021 4:27 pm

The coking coal price differential between Australia and China has now widened to US$110 per tonne. At that rate the coking coal ban is costing the Chicoms about US$5 billion per annum.

China - Australia coking coal price gap.png
Alan M
Reply to  fred250
February 12, 2021 7:41 pm

Although interesting these graphs/numbers are rather misleading as they are only looking at imports.
IEA numbers show that for 2019 China produced 46.6% of the world total coal production at 3,690 Mt but only imported 296 Mt so around 8% of their production

Nick in Vancouver
February 12, 2021 2:00 pm

Never underestimate a dictatorship’s tolerance for the suffering of its own people.
That was no blink, it was a wink, for the benefit of the useful idiots in the West.

Abolition Man
February 12, 2021 4:27 pm

Thanks for the hopeful post, but I doubt that President-for-life Xi is too worried about smoothing things over with his population or the Aussies! After all, he has Beijing Joe and the rest of the Xiden Crime Family watching his back now!
It’s like a bad Hollywood movie where a crooked cop informs for and protects his criminal boss; I’m just not sure who is who in this drama! Maybe the Xiden Regime while start mining and exporting more coal to China to force the Aussies into compliance!

Kit P
Reply to  Abolition Man
February 12, 2021 8:55 pm

Bought stock in an American coal company today.

John in Oz
February 12, 2021 5:13 pm

Time to put the price up

Ed Zuiderwijk
February 13, 2021 1:41 am

This may not be good news at all. A commodity hungry empire realising its dependence on foreign sources may well become more aggressive militarily. One reason for Japan’s expansionism in the early 20th century was to get access to raw materials.

Alan M
February 13, 2021 2:20 am

Good news for Bangladesh.

The Azsalaam power project is a 1.32GW coal-fired power generation facility under construction in the Chittagong district of Bangladesh. The project is being developed on a built, own and operate (BOO) basis of through a joint venture between S. Alam Group and China’s Shandong Power Construction Number Three Company. 
At full capacity, the Azsalaam coal-fired power project is expected to generate up to 10 billion kWh of electricity a year.

Don’t know the coal source

Kit P
Reply to  Alan M
February 13, 2021 7:43 am

Don’t know the coal source

Nobody knows the source and cost of fossil fuel for the 60 year life of a steam plant.

That is what makes nuclear so attractive. The cost of a new reactor often includes a ten year supply of fuel. There is also the factor of transporting fossil fuel to where the demand is.

China went all in with nuclear about the same time they had to start importing coal in 2006. My last job before retiring was at a nuke plant in China under construction. It was just down the road from a large modern coal station running on Aussi coal.

Also own stock in the only US utility building nukes. That state has an enlightened PUC that still remembers the price of natural gas when construction was started. Nuke plant have a 1000 high paying jobs and pay lots of property taxes. Importing energy is providing high paying jobs and taxes to other states.

Alan M
Reply to  Kit P
February 13, 2021 4:05 pm

Sorry Kit but a lot of rubbish here.
“Nobody knows the source and cost of fossil fuel for the 60 year life of a steam plant.”
Of course they do. Superficial search indicates it is Indonesia and Australia and supply contracts of a similar period are the norm.

“It was just down the road from a large modern coal station running on Aussi coal.”
I’ll call BS on that as China only imports about 8% of its coal.( see my earlier comment)

Oh and ask Fukushima about building a nuke near the coast

Kit P
Reply to  Alan M
February 14, 2021 10:51 am

So Alan you are saying my personal experience in the power industry is rubbish and what you know from surfing the internet is good?

The coal plant and nuke plant I was referring to were on the cost to provide power for 50 million people.

The road to the plant was a narrow, sometimes one lane, mountain road. Heavy equipment and coal was imported by sea.

China is building nuke plants because they can not mine enough coal and get it where it is needed.

Why would I ask Fukushima (who ever that is) about Japan? I happen to be a safety expert on GE BWR designs.

Where would you build anything In Japan not near the ocean or a volcano?

Nuclear reactors are designed to protect people from radiation. No one has ever been hurt by radiation for a commercial reactor designed to US standards.

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