Russia Becomes Top China Oil Supplier for First Time Since 2018

(Bloomberg) — Russia blew past Saudi Arabia to become the biggest source of Chinese oil imports last year, highlighting the ineffectiveness of Western efforts to deprive the Kremlin of funds for its war in Ukraine.

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The world’s biggest oil importer bought a record 107 million tons of crude from Russia in 2023, almost a quarter more than the year before, according to customs data released Monday. That compared with just under 86 million tons from Saudi Arabia. It’s the first time Russia has been China’s No. 1 supplier since 2018, and translates to around 2.15 million barrels a day.

Chinese refiners have been eagerly snapping up cut-price Russian crude, despite it being sold at levels above a $60 a barrel Western-imposed price cap. ESPO cargoes from the Russian Far East continue to be popular in China due to the relatively short shipping route. Higher official selling prices have seen processors take fewer Saudi term cargoes, while a recent disagreement with Iranian exporters is further boosting demand for Russian crude.

China’s oil imports from Russia last year were worth $60.6 billion, which equates to an average price of about $77 a barrel, according to Bloomberg calculations based on the customs data.

Iraq and Malaysia were third- and fourth-biggest crude suppliers to China last year, the data show. Crude and fuel from sanctioned exporters — such as Iran — is often classified as coming from the Southeast Asian nation in Chinese government figures.

Russia was also top supplier of fuel oil to China last year, shipping 9.6 million tons. Malaysia being the next-biggest exporter, supplying 6.93 million tons.

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