China’s Coal Supply Crisis Means High Prices, Blackouts

As the cost of coal spikes during China’s severely cold winter, what is an economic and uncomfortable hardship for many citizens could turn into a hot political problem for one man: President Xi Jinping.China’s coal prices rose just as temperatures dropped in December, when demand was already surging because of China’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Fossil fuels, mostly coal, provide nearly 70% of China’s power.But even those with money to burn couldn’t buy coal, according to local media reports, and in a nation where thermal coal fuels electrical power plants, winter’s darkness has taken on new depths. Thermal coal, also known as “steaming coal” or just “coal,” “differs from coking coal, which has a higher energy content and is chiefly used in metal making rather than electricity production,” FILE – In this Nov. 28, 2019, photo, a coal storage facility is seen in Hejin in central China’s Shanxi Province.Two months later, on Feb. 3, coal cost about $98.52, FILE – In this Nov. 28, 2019, photo, smoke and steam rise from a coal processing plant in Hejin in central China’s Shanxi province.By February 2020, nine people were under investigation, including high-level local officials and coal industry executives, according to Chinese government-run media Xinhua.Local governments, resentful of interference from provincial and national higher-ups, set about frosting Xi’s image.Wang Chih-sheng, secretary general of China Asia-Pacific Elite Exchange Association, said the current cutback on electricity have made many people suspect Beijing is losing control over local governments who are “marking their territory and declaring autonomy.”That would give anti-Xi groups an opportunity to make Xi look bad during this year’s Two Sessions in March, the annual plenary sessions of the National People’s Congress and the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the two organizations responsible for making national-level political decisions.“The goal may not be to bring down Xi in one shot, but if they can take advantage of China’s energy or electricity crises, and then further weaken Xi’s political credibility, or cause some unrest to come down on Xi’s political groups, I think that’s probably what some people expect,” Wang said. “It is a blow to Xi’s own political prestige at a certain level.”Luo Cing-Sheng, CEO of Taiwan International Strategy Society, said that the anti-Xi groups may use this opportunity to express their dissatisfaction.“They would just resist for a bit to teach Xi a lesson,” he said. “Basically, it is a bargaining process.”  

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