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China’s Imports of Russian Oil Surge, But Saudi Top Supplier

China’s purchases have climbed in order to reap the benefits of a plunge in European buying as sanctions push Moscow in search of alternative markets.

This aerial view shows tugboats helping a crude oil tanker to berth at a terminal, off Waidiao Island in Zhoushan, Zhejiang province, on July 18, 2022. Photo: CNSphoto via Reuters.


China’s crude oil imports from Russia climbed 28% in August from a year earlier, but Saudi Arabia was the top exporter, according to government data on Tuesday.

Russian crude shipped during August was equal to 8.342 million tonnes, equivalent to 1.96 million barrels per day, just shy of May’s nearly 2 million bpd record, data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs showed.

Russian imports rose as Chinese independent refiners extended purchases of discounted Russian supplies that elbowed out rival cargoes from West Africa and Brazil.

China’s purchases have climbed in order to reap the benefits of a plunge in European buying just when Beijing needs it most as the Ukraine crisis pushes Moscow in search of alternative markets.


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Saudi Reclaims Top Spot

Still, imports from Saudi Arabia rebounded last month to 8.475 million tonnes, or 1.99 million bpd, 5% above the year ago levels.

Saudi Arabia also remains the biggest supplier on a year-to-date basis, shipping 58.3 million tonnes of oil from January to August, down 0.3% on the year, versus 55.79 million tonnes from Russia, which was up 7.3% from the year ago period.

China’s crude oil imports in August fell 9.4% from a year earlier, as outages at state-run refineries and lower operations at independent plants caused by weak margins capped buying.

The strong Russian purchases continued to weigh on competing supplies from Angola and Brazil, which fell in August by 34% and 47% year-on-year, respectively.


Unreported Imports

Customs reported no imports from Venezuela or Iran last month. State oil firms have shunned purchases since late 2019 for fear of falling foul of secondary US sanctions.

However, there have been reports that defence-focused China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp (CASIC) moved 25 million barrels of Venezuelan crude into China since late 2020, which Chinese customs does not report.

Tuesday’s customs data also showed imports from Malaysia, often used as a transfer point in the past two years for oil originating from Iran, Venezuela and more recently Russia, nearly doubled from a year earlier, to 3.37 million tonnes, or 794,000 bpd.

China did not import any crude from the United States, data showed.


  • Reuters, with additional editing from Alfie Habershon



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Alfie Habershon

Alfie is a Reporter at Asia Financial. He previously lived in Mumbai reporting on India's economy and healthcare for data journalism initiative IndiaSpend, as well as having worked for London based Tortoise Media.


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