* Dec coal imports slump on government curbs
* 2018 coal imports rise 3.4 pct despite intervention
* Traders see low January shipments (Adds numbers, background)
BEIJING, Jan 14 (Reuters) - China’s coal imports rose to 281.5 million tonnes in 2018, the highest annual figure in four years, customs data showed on Monday, despite a government push to cap shipments at last year’s level.
Coal imports were 3.4 percent above 2017, data from the General Administration of Customs showed, even as December’s imports tumbled nearly 47 percent to 10.23 million tonnes.
Traders and utilities cut back sharply on purchases at the end of the year following government signals, with utilities sitting on record coal stocks, pushing down domestic prices.
Utilities had been told they needed to keep imports in 2018 below the prior year’s level, amid abundant domestic supplies and slowing electricity demand growth.
China has also switched another 3.29 million households to gas heating this winter, according to Reuters calculations, more than last year, as Beijing continues to push the use of cleaner fuels to curb pollution.
Traders expect imports of coal, used in China for power generation, heating and steelmaking, to remain low in January as the country continues to curb imports in order to boost domestic coal prices.
Reporting by Meng Meng and Dominique Patton; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Richard Pullin