The first Australian coal shipment to China in over two years neared delivery on Thursday, according to shipping data and media reports, as tensions between the two Pacific powers show signs of easing.
Once close trading partners, Beijing and Canberra have butted heads in recent years over issues including Chinese influence operations overseas, crackdowns in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Those political tensions spilled into the economic arena, with China quietly sanctioning a range of Australian goods — including coal — and imposing a freeze on high-level contacts in 2020.
But ties have warmed since Prime Minister Anthony Albanese took office last year, and Foreign Minister Penny Wong became Canberra’s first top diplomat to visit Beijing in four years in December.
According to shipping data platform MarineTraffic, a vessel called the Magic Eclipse was anchored off the coast of the southern Chinese city of Zhanjiang Thursday, after departing last month from Hay Point in Australia’s Queensland.
The bulk carrier is loaded with a consignment of coking coal — used primarily for steelmaking — for the Chinese market, Bloomberg News reported.
China’s state-run Global Times newspaper, which is not considered an official mouthpiece, reported the coal would be delivered to a local production facility operated by Baosteel, the world’s largest steel producer.
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A person who answered the phone at Baosteel on Thursday told AFP they were not familiar with the situation.
An Australian government spokesperson told AFP on Thursday that Canberra “is aware of reports that Australian coal shipments were due to arrive at a port in China last night”.
“The shipment still needs to clear customs”, the person said.
In a separate statement, Canberra’s Trade Minister Don Farrell said “any step towards resolving the trade impediments would be welcome”.
Farrell said earlier this week that he had discussed the eventual “full resumption of trade” with Chinese Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao in a video meeting.
The meeting represented an “important step in the stabilisation of Australia’s relations with China”, he added.
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Wong’s December meeting with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi was billed by Beijing as an opportunity to bring China-Australia relations “back on track”.