Russia overtakes Saudi Arabia as Beijing's top supplier after 19-month gap as Russian oil imports have soared to a record 55 percent from last year.

Russia took back the top ranking of China's crude oil supplier after a gap of 19 months.
Russia took back the top ranking of China's crude oil supplier after a gap of 19 months. (Reuters Archive)

China's crude oil imports from Russia have soared 55 percent 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 offensive in 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, data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs showed on Monday.

That's equivalent to roughly 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 percent on year at 7.82 million tonnes, or 1.84 million bpd. This was down from April's 2.17 million bpd.

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Overall crude oil imports

Russia took back the top ranking after a gap of 19 months. Customs data released on Monday also showed China imported 260,000 tonnes of Iranian crude oil last month, its third shipment of Iran oil since last December.

Despite US 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 percent of China's total crude oil imports.

China's overall crude oil imports rose nearly 12 percent 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 percent from a year earlier to 2.2 million tonnes, as supplies from the Latin American exporter faced cheaper competition from Iranian and Russian barrels.

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Source: Reuters