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China’s oil imports from Russia surge amid Ukraine war, US bans

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Oil and gas tanks are seen at an oil warehouse at a port in Zhuhai, China in 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

China has increased its crude oil imports from Russia in recent months, importing more than any other country in the month of May since December last year by taking advantage of lower prices in the face of Western sanctions.

Chinese customs data released on Monday indicated that its crude oil imports from Russia had increased by a whopping 55 percent in May, compared with a year earlier, reaching a record level and replacing Saudi Arabia as the top supplier to Beijing.

The development came as refiners took advantage of heavily discounted supplies amid escalating Western sanctions against Russia over the persisting conflict in Ukraine.

The data, which further showed that Russia took back the top ranking of suppliers to the world’s largest crude oil importer after a gap of 19 months, also points to the notion that Moscow is capable of finding customers for its oil despite the US-led sanctions, though it has had to slash prices to do so.

According to Western press reports, China purchased $7.47 billion worth of Russian energy products in May, which was nearly $1 billion more than in April.

The new Chinese customs data was unveiled four months after the outset of the conflict in Ukraine as buyers from the US and much of Europe shun Russian energy supplies or have vowed to slash them over the coming months.

China has been Russia’s biggest market for crude oil since 2016.  The world’s second-largest economy, imported nearly 8.42 million tons of oil from Russia last month, the data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs further showed. It imported 7.82 million tons of oil from Saudi Arabia in the same period.

Imports of Russian oil include supplies pumped via the Eastern Siberia Pacific Ocean pipeline and seaborne shipments from Russia’s European and Far Eastern ports.

Analysts further point out that Asian energy demands are also helping to secure some of those losses for Russia, especially buyers from China and India.

India also purchased six times more Russian oil from March to May compared with the same period last year, and imports by China during that period tripled, according to data released by from the Oslo-based Rystad Energy research firm.

According to the International Energy Agency’s latest global oil report, India has overtaken Germany in the last two months as the second largest importer of Russian crude.

Separately, data also showed China’s imports of Russian liquefied natural gas (LNG) amounted to nearly 400,000 tons last month, 56 percent more than May of 2021.

Imports of Russian LNG – from mostly the Sakhalin-2 project in the Far East and Yamal LNG in the Russian Arctic – also rose for the first five months of this year by 22 percent to 1.84 million tons, according to the customs data.

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