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Saudi Arabia stays top crude supplier to China in 2022, Russian barrels surge

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LONDON/SINGAPORE — Russia remained

China’s second-largest source of crude oil in 2022, following

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repeat top supplier Saudi Arabia, as Chinese refiners snapped up

low-cost Russian barrels while Western countries shunned them

after the Ukraine crisis.

China’s crude oil imports from Russia jumped 8% in 2022 from

a year earlier to 86.25 million tonnes, equivalent to 1.72

million barrels per day (bpd), data from the General

Administration of Customs showed on Friday.

Russian crude has been trading in widening discounts to

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global oil benchmarks following Western sanctions over its

invasion of Ukraine, which the Kremlin has called a “special

operation.”

China, which refused to condemn the attack, cranked up

procurement of Russian barrels and has largely ignored the

sanctions imposed by Western nations on seaborne Russian crude

from Dec. 5.

In December, it brought in 6.47 million tonnes of crude oil

from Russia, or 1.52 million bpd, compared to 1.7 million bpd in

the same period in 2021.

China’s state-backed refiners have wound down the

purchase of Russian oil since November, but the independent

refineries have continued buying from intermediary traders who

arrange shipping and insurance, shielding them from the risk of

secondary sanctions.

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Saudi Arabia shipped a total of 87.49 million tonnes of

crude to China in 2022, equivalent to 1.75 million bpd, customs

data showed, on par with the level in 2021.

China’s state-backed oil refiners largely fulfilled their

term contracts with Saudi in 2022 despite the sluggish domestic

demand.

Saudi Arabia is expected to remain a key, if not the

dominant, crude exporter to China after President Xi Jinping’s

visit to Riyadh in December, where he told Gulf leaders that

China would work to buy oil in Chinese yuan, rather than U.S.

dollars.

Customs data also showed that crude imports from Malaysia

almost doubled in 2022 to 35.68 million tonnes. The Southeast

Asian country is a transfer point for sanctioned shipments

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originating from Iran and Venezuela.

No Venezuelan crude imports were recorded by Chinese customs

throughout 2022 and a total of 780,392 tonnes of crude oil from

Iran arrived in China.

China is Iran’s biggest oil buyer, but most Iranian exports

are rebranded as crude from other countries to evade U.S.

sanctions.

Vortexa, a ship tracking specialist, assessed that China’s

December imports of Iranian oil rose to a record of 1.2 million

bpd, up 130% from a year earlier.

Crude shipments from the United States reached 7.89 million

tonnes in 2022, down 31% year-on-year.

The table below shows imports by country, with volumes in

metric tonnes and the percentage change calculated by Reuters.

Dec-22 y/y pct Jan-Dec2022 y/r pct

change change

Saudi 7,116,241 7.44 87,488,516 -0.08

Russia 6,471,542 -10.56 86,248,075 8.30

Malaysia 5,524,621 81.46 35,675,857 92.56

Iraq 5,058,030 0.92 55,486,666 2.62

UAE 4,953,875 33.04 42,770,849 33.92

Oman 3,470,932 -4.14 39,370,088 -12.15

Brazil 2,978,729 39.63 24,928,572 -17.72

Angola 2,568,123 -36.36 30,087,909 -23.15

United 688,547 20.05 7,890,673 -31.22

States

Iran NA NA 780,392 199.79

Venezuela NA NA NA NA

(tonne = 7.3 barrels for crude oil conversion)

(Reporting by Andrew Hayley and Muyu Xu; Editing by Janane

Venkatraman)

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