Russia has overtaken Saudi Arabia as China’s top importer of crude oil as its once largest importer, the European Union, continues to shun Russian oil over the war in Ukraine.
Last month, China imported nearly 2 million barrels per day (bpd) – a 55% increase from May 2021, and a nearly 20% increase from April, according to the latest statistics from China’s General Administration of Customs.
By comparison, China’s imports of Saudi crude in May averaged around 1.84 million bpd – up just 9% compared to May 2021, but down from 2.17 million bpd in April, according to the data cited by Reuters.
The last time Russia was China’s top supplier of crude oil was in late 2020, per the estimates. Russia has been increasingly selling its stigmatized oil to Asia as western buyers ween themselves off of it amid the ongoing war in Ukraine and refiners cashed in on discounted supplies amid sanctions on Moscow.
Earlier this year – before Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine – some 75% of Russia’s oil exports were being shipped to Europe, according to Alexander Dyukov, chief executive of Gazprom Neft.
Analysts say, however, that Russia still has a long way to go before its imports to Asia can match the 4 million bpd of oil it was sending to Europe prior to the war in Ukraine.
Overall crude demand in China has been dampened by COVID-19 curbs and a stagnating economy. Refining Sinopec and trader ZhenHua Oil have been increasingly buying cheaper Russian oil on top of sanctioning supplies from Iran and Venezuela, allowing them to scale back competing supplies from West Africa and Brazil.