SINGAPORE: China's crude oil imports from Russia soared 55 per cent from a year earlier to a record level in May, displacing Saudi Arabia as the top supplier, as refiners cashed in on discounted supplies amid sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.
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, totalled nearly 8.42 million tonnes, according to data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs.
That's equivalent to about 1.98 million barrels per day (bpd) and up a quarter from 1.59 million bpd in April. China is the world's biggest crude oil importer.
Chinese firms, including state refining giant Sinopec and state-run Zhenhua Oil, have ramped up purchases of Russian oil, enticed by steep discounts after western oil majors and trading houses pulled back due to sanctions.
Saudi Arabia trailed as the second-largest supplier, with May volumes up 9 per cent on year at 7.82 million tonnes, or 1.84 million bpd. This was down from April's 2.17 million bpd.
Russia took back the top ranking after a gap of 19 months.
Customs data released on Monday (Jun 20) also showed that China imported 260,000 tonnes of Iranian crude oil last month, its third shipment of Iran oil since last December, confirming an earlier Reuters report.
Despite United States sanctions on Iran, China has kept taking Iranian oil, usually passed off as supplies from other countries. The import levels are roughly equivalent to 7 per cent of China's total crude oil imports.
China's overall crude oil imports rose nearly 12 per cent in May from a low base a year earlier to 10.8 million bpd, versus the 2021 average of 10.3 million bpd.
Customs reported zero imports from Venezuela. State oil firms have shunned purchases since late 2019 for fear of falling foul of secondary US sanctions.
Imports from Malaysia, often used as a transfer point in the last two years for oil originating from Iran and Venezuela, amounted to 2.2 million tonnes, steady versus April but more than double the year-earlier level.
Imports from Brazil fell 19 per cent from a year earlier to 2.2 million tonnes, as supplies from the Latin American exporter faced cheaper competition from Iranian and Russian barrels.