SYDNEY – Mining giant BHP has confirmed that its Chinese clients have asked for deferrals of their Australian coal orders, marking a new chapter of trade and diplomatic tensions between Beijing and Canberra.
“Our commercial team has recently received deferment requests from some of our Chinese customers,” the chairman of the multinational, Ken MacKenzie, told reporters on Wednesday after the first annual general meeting of the company that was held virtually.
“We understand there may be some new developments relating to how China plans and moderates imports versus its own domestic coal production,” Mackenzie said, according to national broadcaster ABC on Thursday.
The senior executive’s remarks come two days after Trade Minister Simon Birmingham announced that he had asked through diplomatic channels if Beijing had ordered its companies to stop buying Australian coal, adding to diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
Last week, the specialized media S&P Global Platts and Argus Media reported that the Chinese authorities gave orders to state energy companies, among others in the sector, to stop importing Australian coal.
Throughout this year, China has imposed tariffs on Australian barley, considering that it is subsidized, and suspended imports of meat from the Oceanian country.
These trade measures have been interpreted as a retaliation against Canberra after it called for an international investigation into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was supported on Monday at the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization.
China is Australia’s main trading partner, with a bilateral exchange of AU$235 billion ($169 billion) in the financial year 2018-19, an increase of 20.5 percent over the previous period.
The bilateral relationship between the two countries has been deteriorating due to issues such as the militarization of the Asian giant and the approval in Australia of laws against interference and foreign espionage, following complaints of Chinese donations to politicians and cyberattacks against state agencies and universities that have been attributed to Beijing.