China-Australia relations: Canberra ‘keeping the door open’ as questions swirl over coal import ban

China-Australia relations: Canberra ‘keeping the door open’ as questions swirl over coal import ban

Canberra’s response to China’s ban on Australian coal exports has hinted at more conciliatory engagement with Beijing, but former diplomats and analysts said it was too early to tell if tensions have eased.Chinese steel mills and state-owned utilities revealed at the weekend that Beijing had verbally ordered them to stop buying Australian coking and thermal coal, sparking concern about a new dispute in an increasingly testy diplomatic relationship.

Relations have nosedived since Canberra called in April for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus without first consulting Beijing.

Australian trade minister Simon Birmingham and Prime Minister Scott Morrison have played down the ban, saying there was no evidence it was politically motivated and restrictions on coal shipments into China were common, particularly when steel mills and utilities have exhausted domestic quotas.