An Australian coal flotilla trapped off the coast of China is carrying $1.1billion in blacklisted cargo as fears grow the Asian superpower is deliberately blocking the export of the lucrative commodity.
Australian coal exports to China have dropped 96 per cent in the first three weeks of November as 82 ships laden with 8.8million tonnes of coal are left floating off Chinese ports.
The number of stranded vessels has quadrupled in the past two weeks, prompting Morrison government officials to openly question whether China is deliberately discriminating against Australian exports.
Coal earns Australia more than $53billion each year and is the country’s second biggest export after iron ore.
An Australian coal flotilla trapped off the coast of China has swelled to 82 ships and is carrying $1.1billion in blacklisted cargo. Pictured file image of tankers waiting to unload cargo
Last year, Australian miners shipped $10billion of metallurgic coal and $7billion of thermal coal to China.
One Nation leader Pauline Hanson said the delays were the latest in ‘China’s recent spate of economic attacks’ designed to ‘inflict maximum damage’.
‘For decades I have warned that our nation’s overexposure to the whims of a hostile, authoritarian, communist Chinese Government was leaving us vulnerable to this exact type of danger,’ she said.
The trade blockage comes as Beijing continues to ramp up economic threats against Australia after Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an inquiry into China’s role in sparking the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year.
While five million tonnes of Australian coal were expected to be shipped to China this month, that figure has dropped to 190,000 for the first three weeks of November, The Australian reported.
China has claimed the hold-up is due to authorities conducting environmental checks.
But Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has rejected the idea Australian coal could be a biohazard, saying it would pass ‘any credible testing regime’.
Coal exports to China from Australia have dropped 96 per cent in the first three weeks of November amid reports the Asian superpower is blocking exports of the valuable commodity Pictured: Water is sprayed over piles of coal at the Port of Newcastle in Newcastle, New South Wales
‘We are working closely with the industry as well as seeking assurances and clarity from Chinese authorities that this is not discriminatory action against Australian coal,’ he said.
The bulk freighters are estimated to have more than 1,500 sailors stranded on board.
The hold-up follows Mr Morrison attempting to take a softer tone with the authoritarian regime in the hopes of soothing the bitter feud.
The blockage is latest escalation of trade tension between the two countries (pictured, port in Nanjing China)
Just weeks ago the Communist Party informally ordered Chinese companies to stop buying a number of key Australian exports including barley, sugar, red wine, timber, lobster and copper.
Mr Morrison said the government would work through the trade issues one at a time, but Australia would not bow to pressure or cede its sovereignty.
‘We just work the process through with the Chinese government to get the best possible outcome that we can,’ he told the Nine network.
The bulk freighters have been there for over a month with more than 1000 sailors on board stranded (pictured, a pile of coal at the port of Newcastle)
‘These are not easy issues … it’s incredibly complicated what we’re dealing with here.’
The prime minister said skilled trade negotiators were working to resolve the disputes.
‘That’s not simple, but simple things are not the only issues with deal with as a government,’ Mr Morrison said.
‘We deal with very complicated and difficult issues, which this is one of, but we are very keen to ensure we get the best outcome for Australia and in the interests of our relationship.’
Scott Morrison (pictured right) attempted to take a softer tone with the authoritarian regime in the hopes of soothing the bitter feud (pictured left, Chinese President Xi Jinping)
Coal is Australia’s second most valuable resource behind iron ore, and last year miners shipped $10billion of metallurgic coal and $7billion of thermal coal to China (pictured, a coal bucket wheel reclaimer at the port of Newcastle)
Beijing has tried to justify their blatant attempts of economic coercion by designating many of the blocked commodities as ‘biohazards’ – a claim vehemently denied by Australian exporters.
After years of simmering tensions, Scott Morrison took a much softer tone in a speech this week.
‘We are not and have never been in the economic containment camp on China,’ the Prime Minister said to the UK think tank Policy Exchange.
‘No country has pulled more people out of poverty than China. We in Australia are pleased to have played our role in the economic emancipation of millions of Chinese through the development of their nation’s economy.
‘That is a good thing for the global economy. It is good for Australia. And, of course, good for the Chinese people.’
It seems the speech was viewed positively by Mr Zhao and Communist Party officials.
China has enacted a freeze on all Australian thermal and coking coal shipments (pictured, an Australian mine worker at Central Queensland’s Caval Ridge coal mine)
China’s Foreign Ministry attributed the month-long delays at coal ports to ‘environmental checks’
‘China noticed Prime Minister Morrison’s positive comments on the global influence of China’s economic growth and China’s poverty alleviation efforts,’ he said.
Hostilities between Australia and China have soared in recent years after a number of diplomatic spats.
The banning of Huawei from the nation’s 5G network in 2018 on the grounds of national security concerns infuriated the totalitarian state, but it was Mr Morrison’s call for an independent international inquiry in the origins of the coronavirus back in April which prompted a drastic response from Beijing.
China immediately slapped an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley, suspended beef imports and told students and tourists not to travel Down Under.
Scott Morrison (pictured shaking hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping) said Australia’s actions are ‘wrongly’ being interpreted by Beijing through the ‘lens of the strategic competition between China and the US’
Beijing again responded with fury and outrage last week when Mr Morrison set off to Japan – one of China’s greatest historic rivals – to strengthen trade and military ties.
As payback Chinese companies were told to boycott Australian exports including barley, sugar, red wine, logs, lobster, copper – and coal.
Tensions have also spiked over allegations of widespread state-sponsored cyber attacks by China, and after ASIO raided the homes of Chinese journalists suspected of political interference.
How China’s feud with Australia has escalated
2019: Australian intelligence services conclude that China was responsible for a cyber-attack on Australia’s parliament and three largest political parties in the run-up to a May election.
April 2020: Australian PM Scott Morrison begins canvassing his fellow world leaders for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. Britain and France are initially reluctant but more than 100 countries eventually back an investigation.
April 15: Morrison is one of the few leaders to voice sympathy with Donald Trump’s criticisms of the World Health Organization, which the US president accuses of bias towards China.
April 21: China’s embassy accuses Australian foreign minister Peter Dutton of ‘ignorance and bigotry’ and ‘parroting what those Americans have asserted’ after he called for China to be more transparent about the outbreak.
April 23: Australia’s agriculture minister David Littleproud calls for G20 nations to campaign against the ‘wet markets’ which are common in China and linked to the earliest coronavirus cases.
April 26: Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye hints at a boycott of Australian wine and beef and says tourists and students might avoid Australia ‘while it’s not so friendly to China’. Canberra dismisses the threat and warns Beijing against ‘economic coercion’.
May 11: China suspends beef imports from four of Australia’s largest meat processors. These account for more than a third of Australia’s $1.1billion beef exports to China.
May 18: The World Health Organization backs a partial investigation into the pandemic, but China says it is a ‘joke’ for Australia to claim credit. The same day, China imposes an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley. Australia says it may challenge this at the WTO.
May 21: China announces new rules for iron ore imports which could allow Australian imports – usually worth $41billion per year – to be singled out for extra bureaucratic checks.
June 5: Beijing warns tourists against travelling to Australia, alleging racism and violence against the Chinese in connection with Covid-19.
June 9: China’s Ministry of Education warns students to think carefully about studying in Australia, similarly citing alleged racist incidents.
June 19: Australia says it is under cyber-attack from a foreign state which government sources say is believed to be China. The attack has been targeting industry, schools, hospitals and government officials, Morrison says.
July 9: Australia suspends extradition treaty with Hong Kong and offers to extend the visas of 10,000 Hong Kongers who are already in Australia over China’s national security law which effectively bans protest.
August 18: China launches 12-month anti-dumping investigation into wines imported from Australia in a major threat to the $6billion industry.
August 26: Prime Minster Scott Morrison announces he will legislate to stop states and territories signing deals with foreign powers that go against Australia’s foreign policy. Analysts said it is aimed at China.
October 13: Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says he’s investigating reports that Chinese customs officials have informally told state-owned steelmakers and power plants to stop Aussie coal, leaving it in ships off-shore.
November 2: Agriculture Minister David Littleproud reveals China is holding up Aussie lobster imports by checking them for minerals.
November 3: Barley, sugar, red wine, logs, coal, lobster and copper imports from Australia unofficially banned under a directive from the government, according to reports.
November 18: China releases bizarre dossier of 14 grievances with Australia.
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