There is a possibility of Australian coal being exported to China once again, reports suggest, in the latest indication frosty relations between the two countries are thawing.

According to Reuters, China’s state planner – the National Development and Reform Commission – met with three major government-backed utilities, as well as a steelmaker, to discuss resuming coal imports from Australia.

While the reports have not been confirmed, it prompted shares of ASX-listed coal companies to surge on Wednesday.

If a return to coal imports comes to fruition, it would be significant given Beijing unofficially banned coal trade with Canberra in 2020 as the relationship between the two countries turned sour.

In 2019, Australia exported $13.7b worth of coal to China.

Since the Albanese government came to power in May 2022, diplomatic tensions have significantly thawed.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20, and Foreign Minister Penny Wong has visited Beijing for a bilateral meeting with her counterpart.

Reuters has reported four firms – China Datang Corp, China Huaneng Group, China Energy Investment Corporation and China Baowu Steel Group – will be granted permission to purchase Australian coal for their own use.

Before the bans were imposed, Australia was the second largest supplier of coal to China, accounting for nearly 70 million tonnes of supply and favoured in place of China’s own lower-quality coal.

The reports emerge as Beijing accelerates approval for new coal projects ahead of “peak season”.

Since banning Australian coal, China has turned to energy-co-operation deals with Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan as well as Qatar.

The latest sign of diplomatic thawing comes as China accuses countries of playing politics with Covid-19, as Australia, the United States and Europe – among others – slap testing requirements on travellers.

President Xi’s mouthpiece, the Global Times, on Friday wrote there was “no scientific basis” for the entry requirements, which go against the “original intention of Covid prevention and control”.

“The additional prevention and control measures they have taken against Chinese travellers are not based on scientific research and judgment, but on prejudice against China and political calculations,” the newspaper wrote.

“The political manipulation of the border entry of Chinese travellers not only ignores scientific facts, but also runs counter to the expectations of the world to walk out of the shadow of the pandemic.”

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