Spicks & Specks

incorporating 'A Thousand Miles of Moonlight'

Export of Coking Coal from China

30 November 2006

This is an anonymous piece I came across recently. I am uploading it because I find it delightful not only for its simplicity but also its use of colourful expressions. The writer definitely has a jaundiced view of Indian business ethics and the style of the people who deal with them, but the straightforward honesty of the passage is part of its charm. It doesn't try to hide behind protestations of friendship and mutual benefit, nor does it adopt the verbose style of Chinese academic or journalistic writing. It is clear, earthy and 'straight from the heart'.

My translation is quite amateurish as I am not an expert in coking coal and its technology. Comments on the translation and particular expressions in it follow.


Chinese coking coal exports largely fall into two types. One type is long-term contracts, the main buyers being Japan and Korea. The other is the spot market, where the main buyers are India, Pakistan, and a few European countries. Of all these buyers, the prices given by Japan give the fattest profits, but their quality requirements are also the toughest. The Japanese are very good at coking blends, so they require all kinds, including 1/3 coking coal, fat coal, and prime coking coal, which they blend for coking. The main Japanese trading intermediaries are the major players, such as Mitsubishi, Mitsui, and Itochu. Small traders find it hard to gain a foothold in the export of coking coal to Japan.

对于现货市场,最大的买家是印度。中间商主要有两大阵营,第一为中煤、山煤、神华、五矿的贸易公司。第二大阵营是一些扯虎皮,耍大棋的中国人。其中主要的有荷兰煤炭SSM Coal Group(负责人五矿出身)、 瑞士冶金 IMR Metallurgical Resources AG (IMR) 、嘉能可 Glencore International AG(负责人中煤出身) ,这几大贸易商做焦煤和焦炭的都是中国人,他们共用总公司的银行额度和名声,煤和炭都做。这几家之间关系不太好。他们跟印度人关系都不错,印度人在这几个中间商身上都有既得利益,所以关系还不错。

With regard to the spot market, the largest buyer is India. Intermediaries fall into two main groups. The first is trading companies such as ChinaCoal, Shanxi Coal, Shen Hua, and Minmetals. The second comprises individual Chinese players who trade under the cloak of a major company. The main ones are the Dutch company SSM (the person in charge was originally from Minmetals), the Swiss company IMR Metallurgical Resources AG (IMR), and Glencore International (the person in charge was originally from ChinaCoal). The coking coal and coke traders in these major companies are all Chinese using the credit lines and prestige of company headquarters. They deal in both coking coal and coke. These traders are not on very good terms with each other. They have good relations with the Indians, which is due to the fact that the Indians have vested interests in these companies.



Indians are opportunistic dealers who will often gladly sacrifice principle to profit. They have no honesty to speak of. In the long-term trade, the first group of traders gradually grew tired of Indians going back on their word and switched to using the companies mentioned above. Although profits are low, they are freed from the quagmire of entanglement with Indians. The profits of the intermediaries are not high. If they can make a gross profit of $20-30 per tonne they are doing well.

Demand for coking coal in the Indian market is in an inverse relationship with the price of coke. When coke prices are low, Indian demand for coking coal is poor. When coke prices are high, Indians buy more coking coal and coke it themselves.

Some interesting expressions are:

油水 yǒushuǐ literally 'oil and water': profit. A nice earthy expression.

配煤 pèiméi: coal blending. The verb pèi is used for mixing and blending ingredients (such as medicines), as well as making spectacles, keys, etc.

1/3焦煤 jiāoméi: 1/3 coking coal.

肥煤 féiméi: fat coal.

主焦煤 zhǔjiāoméi: prime coking coal.

These are three categories of coal. They fall under the rubric of 強粘結炭 kyōnenketsutan ('hard coking coal') in Japanese.

大株 dàzhū: have not been able to find this, but it possibly comes from Japanese (?). The meaning is clearly 'big boys' or 'major players'.

大阵营 dàzhènyíng: refers to 'major camps' (in the military sense).

扯虎皮 chě hǔpí: chě has a number of meanings, including 'pull', 'talk (nonsense)', etc. 虎皮 hǔpí means 'tiger skin'. The expression means to put on an attractive cloak (or a false front) to make people believe your lies.

耍大棋 shǔa dàqí (also written 拉大旗 lā dàqí) has a similar meaning. It means to utilise trust in a reputable institution and turn it to your own benefit. (The two written forms mean 'play big chess' and 'pull a big flag' respectively. It is interesting that the same expression can be interpreted in different ways.)

In the passage above, the implication is that these Chinese traders are utilising the name and creditworthiness of these large trading companies to pull off what is essentially a one-man show.

银行额度 yínháng édù 'bank credit limits'. This refers to the maximum amount that a bank has authorised a company to borrow. I've translated it as 'credit line', although it actually refers to a borrowing limit.

既得利益 jìdé lìyì 'vested interest'. I am not sure what this refers to specifically. Presumably the Indian sellers and the Chinese traders are in a 'symbiotic' relationship where one benefits the other.

有奶就是娘 yǒu nǎi jiù shì niáng (or 有奶便是娘 yǒu nǎi biàn shì niáng) is a beautiful expression (although not very refined!) meaning 'whoever has milk is my mother', i.e., 'whoever suckles me is my mother'. This refers to the unscrupulous behaviour of those who will dance to any tune as long as you pay them. It is backed up by the following expression:

见利忘义 jiànlì wàngyì, literally 'see profit forget principle'. This is a more high-class expression than the preceding, but is equally withering in its condemnation of those who 'forsake good for the sake of gold' (as the dictionary puts it).

毫无诚信而言 háowú chéngxìn ér yán. Literally 'no honesty to speak of', which is how I have translated it. 诚信 chéngxìn means 'faith, honesty, loyalty'.

出尔反尔 chū ěr fǎn ěr: 'To go back on one's word', 'to contradict oneself'. Self-explanatory, but again a nice succinct phrase to express the concept of reneging on promises.

纠缠 jiūchén: 'to be entangled', 'to pester, worry'. I have translated this as 'being entangled' although I am sure there are better ways of phrasing it.

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