Coal use accounts for a very large proportion of electricity production in China. Using a recently developed coarsened exact matching (CEM) technique, this paper examines the impact of research and development (R&D) activities on the performance of firms in China’s coal mining industry. Our empirical results reveal that firms in China’s coal industry that conduct R&D are more productive and their sales are higher. However, as far as the firm profitability and market shares are concerned, whether or not a firm in China’s coal industry conducts R&D makes no difference. We find that foreign direct investment in China’s coal mining industry leads to a significant decrease in the market share of domestic firms and its impact on productivity, sales and profitability of domestic firms is insignificant. The empirical results presented in this paper suggest that policies that encourage domestic firms in China’s coal mining industries to conduct R&D can increase domestic production thereby reducing reliance on imports. Furthermore, productivity gains arising from R&D activities can also help Chinese mining firms to improve their competitive position in the international market. However, there is a need for restricting foreign direct investment in China’s coal mining industry.