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LITTLETON, (Colorado): China’s imports of thermal coal in the opening quarter of 2023 have soared to new highs as utilities and businesses restocked in anticipation of greater energy use following the easing of strict zero-COVID policies that curbed coal demand in 2022.

Total thermal coal imports through March soared 81% from the same period a year ago to 65.7 million tonnes, according to ship-tracking data from Kpler. Coal ports along China’s south and east coasts accounted for more than 45 million tonnes of the total imports, revealing sharp rises in demand along the country’s main manufacturing corridors.

With China having been largely sidelined from coal markets in 2022 by repeated battles with COVID-19, the country’s aggressive return to coal import markets so far in 2023 raises the prospect of a surge in coal-fired emissions from the world’s largest goods manufacturer and exporter.

Ports feeding China’s south coast saw the largest year-over-year increase in thermal coal imports. Four key southern ports - Guangzhou, Qinzhou, Huizhou and Fangcheng - totalled more than 13.2 million tonnes of imports between them through March, up more than 90% from the same period in 2022.

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