LONDON/SINGAPORE — Russia remained
China’s second-largest source of crude oil in 2022, following
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
global oil benchmarks following Western sanctions over its
invasion of Ukraine, which the Kremlin has called a “special
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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