Australia Worries Coal Is China’s Next Target as Ties Fray



Rachel Pannett | The Wall Street Journal

SYDNEY—Australia has a question for China: Have you imposed restrictions on one of our top exports?

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the government is “working through normal diplomatic channels” to clarify reports in two trade publications that Chinese authorities have told several state-owned steelmakers and power plants to stop importing Australian coal.

Ken MacKenzie, the chairman of BHP Ltd. , said Wednesday that some Chinese customers are asking to defer their cargoes of coal. The company, the world’s largest miner by market cap, is working with them to see whether there are restrictions on imports of Australian coal.

“It would be concerning if the rumors are true,” he said at a press conference following the company’s annual meeting.

Tensions between the two countries have reached new heights in recent months. After Australia began seeking support from European leaders for an investigation into China’s response to the coronavirus—which first spread widely in the Chinese city of Wuhan—China slapped restrictions on imports of Australian beef, barley and wine. It also warned its people against traveling to Australia, whether as a tourist or a student, saying racial discrimination against Chinese people was rising there.

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