China’s oil imports from Russia surge 22% as refiners step up their purchases of the cheap supplies

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oil tanker arrives in Zhoushan
Russia came in second place to Saudi Arabia as China’s top crude supplier.

  • China’s imports of Russia oil surged 22% year-on-year in September, per official figures.
  • Chinese refiners facing thin margins are stepping up purchases of Russia’s cheap crude, per Reuters.
  • Russia still came second to Saudi Arabia as China’s top supplier of oil, even as Saudi imports fall.

Chinese refiners ramped up their purchases of Russian crude in September, sending imports surging over 20% year-on-year, according to official data cited in a Reuters report Monday.

Russian crude delivered to China amounted to 7.46 million tons last month, equivalent to 1.83 million barrels per day, figures from the Chinese General Administration of Customs showed. That’s a rise of 22% compared with a year ago, but is lower than the 1.96 million barrels per day logged in August.

Independent refiners in China are buying more Russian crude amid thin refinery margins and as Moscow continues to discount its exports. The rise comes against a 2% yearly decline in China’s total imports.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, importers in China and India have snapped up Russian oil, which is being sold at a steep discount as Moscow seeks out new buyers amid Western sanctions. Russia’s flagship Urals crude was selling $23.92 below global benchmark Brent crude as of last week.

But analysts have warned the resurgence of COVID-19 curbs could hit Chinese demand for oil. Beijing’s policies have led to shutdowns of industry in several provinces and have contributed to a slowdown in the world’s second-biggest economy. 

Earlier in October, oil producer group OPEC lowered its forecast for Chinese crude demand. It now expects demand to drop by 60,000 barrels a day this year, compared with earlier calls for a rise of 120,000 barrels a day. 

China’s appetite for Russian imports is a sign of Beijing’s continuing engagement with Moscow, despite Russia’s sanctions and other troubles linked to its war in Ukraine. 

Russia still came second to Saudi Arabia as China’s top supplier of oil in September, per Reuters. Imports from Saudi Arabia notched 7.53 million tons, or 1.83 million barrels per day. But China’s imports from Saudi Arabia were still down 5% year-on-year.

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