As Europe turns off the taps on Russian oil imports, China has quietly ramped up purchases, buying record quantities of Russian energy last month, according to Reuters. Chinese crude oil imports from Russia leaped by 55% in May, compared with the year before, replacing Saudi Arabia as China’s top oil provider.
Chinese oil refiners have been benefiting from discount supplies of Russian crude following international sanctions placed on Russia and its energy industry following its invasion of Ukraine.
According to data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs, a record 8.42 million tonnes of crude oil, or 1.98 million barrels per day, arrived in China last month via Siberia and through Russia’s far-eastern ports.
After losing out on the European market, except for Hungary, Czechia, and Slovakia who opted to maintain Russian oil supplies, Russia has sought out new markets for its energy products. By expanding other markets, Russia is able to lessen the impact of Western sanctions and continue to fund its expensive war against Ukraine.
Compared to the same period in 2021, China also purchased 56% more Russian liquefied natural gas (LNG). In the first five months of this year, LNG deliveries from Russia’s far-eastern gas pipelines rose 22%.
Russia recently returned to the top of a ranking for crude oil importers after an absence of 19 months, indicating Moscow is succeeding in dodging international sanctions, albeit through cut-price sales.
“Russia has diverted a large share of exports to India and China,” noted energy analyst Sergei Vakulenko for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He also said that Western sanctions meant that Russia would likely take over the Asian market in years to come.
Last year, Russia sold around 33 billion cubic metres of gas to Asia, which is less than 20% of the size of the European market. Nevertheless, experts warn that Russia will slowly attempt to shift its infrastructure to increase sales in the region.
Saudi oil supplies, which were once China’s primary source of crude, continue to increase but are being outstripped by the growth of Russian imports. The sale of other imports from across the world, such as Brazil and Africa, have dropped.
China is not party to sanctions imposed on numerous countries across the world. As a result, it also buys up oil from sanctioned Iran, amounting to 260,000 tonnes last month.
China officially refrains from Venezuelan supplies over concerns about secondary U.S sanctions, but bought 2.2 million tonnes of crude from Malaysia, which is used as a transfer point for sanctioned Venezuelan oil.
Europe has still yet to entirely wean itself off Russian energy imports. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the European Union purchased over €60 billion on Russian coal, oil, and gas. This money, Europe Beyond Coal argues, could have paid for billions in renewable energy technology.