After reports that Australian coal had been blocked at a key port in north-eastern China, officials have defended the action.
A Chinese official said yesterday that the delays were a result of stepping up efforts to check the quality of imported coal,
“In recent years, China Customs has found that some of the imported coal didn’t meet our environmental protection standards when it carried out inspection and testing on safety and quality risks of the imported coal,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters during a routine briefing in Beijing.
Customs officials were simply complying with strengthened quality and safety inspections of imported coal “in accordance with relevant laws and regulations” to better protect Chinese importers and ensure environmental safety, Geng said.
He also shot down reports of an Australian coal ‘ban’, saying: “I would like to clarify those reports are false.”
It was feared that the holdups in coal processing was an act of political retaliation, after Australia’s blocking of telecoms gear giant Huawei Technologies from rolling out its 5G networks.
Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has since downplayed the delays, saying on Friday he had no reason to believe China is banning Australian coal.
“I want to provide reassurance that we have no basis to believe that there is a ban on Australian coal exports into China or into any part of China,” he said.
The Minister for Trade also said he did not see any problem in the relationship between the two countries.
Since coal is one of Australia’s largest exports, reports that China might be blocking shipments caused the Australian dollar to tumble, coal stocks to fall, and officials to scramble for answers.
China’s markets are vital for Australia and relations are sensitive after the decision by Australia last year to keep Huawei out of its 5G network due to security concerns.
But Senator Birmingham was confident the delays had nothing to do with Huawei.
Chinese import quotas and product testing for quality assurance “may be slowing down the processing of coal in certain ports across China”, he explained.
He also pointed out that China was applying its rules to all countries and wasn’t discriminating against Australia.
Australia is working to clarify China’s policies and to reassure Australian coal companies, he said.
According to the ABC, Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe wasn’t concerned by the reports either, saying the volumes involved were a relatively small proportion of Australia’s coal exports.
“If it were to be the sign of a deterioration in the underlying political relationship between Australia and China, that would be much more concerning.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who was travelling in New Zealand, advised people to avoid jumping to conclusions.
“This is not the first time that on occasion, local ports make decisions about these matters,” he said.
“This happens from time to time, and we will just work constructively with our partners in China about those issues.”