China’s imports of Russian oil reached near record high in March

China's imports of Russian oil reached near record high in March - UTV Pakistan

In March, Russia continued to be China’s main oil supplier, with refiners purchasing stranded Sokol shipments. China’s imports from Russia, including via pipelines and sea shipments, increased by 12.5% year-on-year to 10.81 million metric tons, or 2.55 million barrels per day (bpd) last month.

This was close to the previous monthly record of 2.56 million bpd in June 2023. Seven Russian tankers under sanctions delivered Sokol cargoes to Chinese ports in March to clear a surplus caused by tightened US sanctions.

Over 10 million barrels of oil from Sakhalin-1, a unit of Rosneft, had been in storage due to payment issues and sanctions on shipping firms.

Stockpiling of Russian crude for strategic reserves by state-owned CNOOC also contributed to increased imports from Russia. Sea shipments from Russia were forecasted to reach a record high of 1.82 million bpd, including 440,000 bpd of Sokol and 967,000 bpd of ESPO.

Despite Western sanctions and a price cap following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Russia remained China’s top supplier in 2023, shipping 2.14 million bpd. Russia, along with other OPEC+ members, extended a voluntary reduction in crude oil output of 300,000 bpd into the first quarter of the year to support energy prices.

Imports from Saudi Arabia, previously China’s largest supplier, decreased by 29.3% year-on-year to 6.3 million tons in March, or 1.48 million bpd.

Saudi Arabia extended its voluntary cut of 1 million bpd through June to maintain market share. Imports from Malaysia, a trans-shipment point for sanctioned cargoes from Iran and Venezuela, surged by 39.2% year-on-year to 13.7 million tons, or 3.23 million bpd in January-March.

Customs reported 375,296 tons of imports from Venezuela, following a rare shipment of 352,455 tons of Venezuelan crude in February.

Sanctions on Venezuela were reinstated after the US accused President Nicolas Maduro of not fulfilling election commitments. No imports from Iran were recorded.

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