Coal is the latest in a string of targeted Australian exports to China to face restrictions as bilateral relations deteriorate following Australia’s call for an independent inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic.

China’s state-owned The Global Times reported that the country’s main planning agency, National Development and Reform Commission, had given power plants approval to import coal without restrictions, except for Australian coal.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin gave no specifics about the reported ban, but has said that China had “recently taken measures against some imported Australian products in accordance with law and regulations.”

If the ban was enforced, China would be violating World Trade Organization rules and would be in breach of a bilateral free trade agreement said Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister.

China has consistently said Australia is entirely responsible for disruptions in economic and political ties motivated by what it sees as anti-Chinese bias among Australian politicians, civic leaders and media outlets. Wang said China would “never accept” accusations of unfair trade practices, and accused Australia of having politicized bilateral exchanges in trade, investment, science and technology, while targeting Chinese companies with increased security checks on investments.

“We hope that the Australian side will reflect on itself, be consistent with its words and actions, and effectively provide good conditions and atmosphere for China-Australia practical cooperation in various fields, rather than the other way around,” Wang said.

China is Australia's biggest trading partner, taking $13.7 billion worth of metallurgical and thermal coal in 2019, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.