China is suffering mass power cuts in the south, prompting cities to dim street lights, suspend factory production and tell office blocks to turn off heating unless the temperature falls below 3C.
The electricity crisis appears to have been prompted by a shortage of coal after Beijing banned imports from Australia. China imposed trade bans against Australia after Canberra demanded an inquiry into the origins of coronavirus and criticised Beijing’s treatment of the people of Hong Kong.
In another sign of Beijing’s dependence on Australian raw materials, the China Iron and Steel Association told Rio Tinto, the Anglo-Australian iron ore supplier, yesterday that the rising price of the commodity was unreasonable. It has almost doubled this year.
The association has demanded a new pricing system and questioned whether Australian miners have deliberately restricted supplies. Rio Tinto insists that it has increased shipments to China.
China imports 80 per cent of its iron, mainly from Australia and Brazil, to produce steel. Last year, the country bought more than a billion tonnes of iron ore, more than 60 per cent of which came from Australia.
China relies far less on Australian coal, which accounted for about a quarter of its imports last year. This year, since Beijing sought to punish Canberra, the amount it imported fell to 1.8 million tonnes in November from 9.4 million tonnes in May.
China has insisted it is trying to reduce its dependence on coal. However, the combined effect of a surge in demand for electricity prompted by a colder than usual winter and the economic rebound following lockdown suggests that the country may not be able to wean itself off Australian coal so rapidly.