RIYADH: China’s crude oil imports from Russia in August surged 28 percent from a year earlier, data showed on Tuesday, but it handed back its top supplier ranking to Saudi Arabia for the first time in four months.
Imports of Russian oil, including supplies pumped via the East Siberia Pacific Ocean pipeline and seaborne shipments from Russia’s European and Far Eastern ports, totaled 8.342 million tons, data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs showed.
The August amount, equivalent to 1.96 million barrels per day, was slightly off May’s record of nearly 2 million bpd. China is Russia’s largest oil buyer.
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.
Still, imports from Saudi Arabia rebounded last month to 8.475 million tons, or 1.99 million bpd, 5 percent above the year-ago levels.
Saudi Arabia also remains the biggest supplier on a year-to-date basis, shipping 58.31 million tons of oil from January to August, down 0.3 percent on the year, versus 55.79 million tons from Russia, which was up 7.3 percent from the year-ago period.
China’s crude oil imports in August fell 9.4 percent 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 percent and 47 percent year-on-year, respectively.
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, Reuters reported that defense-focused China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. has 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 tons, or 794,000 bpd.
China did not import any crude from the US, data showed.