Despite an apparent weakness in its economy, China is importing record volumes of oil and is buying record amounts of Russian crude to add to stockpiles.
During the first half of 2023, Chinese imports of Russian crude oil averaged 2.13 million barrels per day (bpd), which helped Russia oust its OPEC+ partner Saudi Arabia from the top spot as the single biggest supplier to the world’s top crude importer so far this year, per Financial Times estimates based on Chinese customs data. Imports from the world’s top crude oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, averaged 1.88 million bpd between January and June, according to FT’s calculations.
In June alone, China broke – for yet another month – the record for importing Russian crude oil, per data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs cited by Reuters. Chinese imports from Russia averaged 2.56 million bpd last month, a surge of 44% compared to the same month in 2022, the Chinese customs data showed.
The previous record, of 2.29 million bpd, was set in May as Chinese refiners continued to buy discounted Russian oil. The discounts for Russia’s crude narrowed relative to the benchmarks in June, but this didn’t stop China from boosting imports and breaking in June the record from May.
China’s imports from Saudi Arabia also rose in June, compared to May and June last year. But at 1.93 million bpd in June 2023, those imports still trailed behind the record-breaking Chinese crude oil imports from Russia.
Total Chinese oil imports are also surging. China’s crude oil imports in June jumped by 45.3% on the year to the second-highest monthly figure on record, as refiners continued building up inventories despite weak domestic demand. Oil imports in June totaled 12.67 million bpd—a sharp increase from a year ago when the country was still under Covid-19 lockdowns.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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