Russia Replaces Saudi Arabia as China’s Top Oil Supplier


China’s crude oil imports from Russia broke records in May, notching a 55-percent increase year-on-year and vaulting Russia past Saudi Arabia as the rising industrial superpower’s top supplier of oil.

China’s insatiable thirst for fossil fuels combined with steep discounts on Russian oil, thanks to international sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, sent about 8.4 million metric tons of Russian crude surging through the East Siberia Pacific pipeline and sailing aboard a fleet of tanker ships. $7.5 billion in Chinese money flowed into Russia’s coffers in return.

A worker cleans pipes at a crude oil terminal of Qingdao Port on May 9, 2022, in Qingdao, Shandong Province of China. (Yu Fangping/VCG via Getty Images)

China is now consuming nearly 2 million barrels of Russian oil per day, even with demand suppressed by ongoing coronavirus lockdowns and signs of a cooling economy.

“China’s total imports from Russia accelerated in May, surging 80% on year to $10.27 billion, as Beijing continues to offer support to an otherwise isolated government in Moscow,” Bloomberg News reported on Monday.

The UK Guardian saw a geopolitical message in China’s big Russian oil purchases:

The purchases by China are also part of Beijing’s careful positioning over the Ukraine conflict, which has seen the president, Xi Jinping, offer strong implied support to his authoritarian ally in the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin.

While at first Beijing avoided any comment on the war, it has criticized western sanctions on Russia as “financial terrorism” and “economic weaponization”, and has also attacked the sale of arms to Kyiv by outside countries such as the US and the UK.

China also buys a great deal of oil from Iran, in defiance of U.S. sanctions. Iran currently provides about seven percent of China’s oil, including imports of 260,000 metric tons last month. Much of Iran’s oil trade with China is concealed by laundering the Iranian oil through other countries to evade sanctions.

The BBC noted that India is also buying a huge amount of discounted Russian oil, almost completely filling the gap from lost Russian exports to Europe, albeit at discounted prices. The Hindu noted that several European countries still buy more Russian oil than India does, but India’s “crude dependency” on Russia unquestionably soared over the past year.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned all buyers of Russian oil last week that they were not only supporting Moscow’s war effort in his country but also making themselves vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

The Russian-controlled government of Crimea on Monday accused Ukrainian forces of attacking offshore drilling platforms owned by the Crimea-based Chernomorneftegaz firm. If the claim is accurate, it would mark the first strike against Crimea’s offshore energy infrastructure since the Russian invasion began.


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