China’s oil import from Russia jumped 55% from a year earlier in May, helping Russia pass Saudi Arabia and regain China’s top oil supplier after 19 months.
Data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs show that China imported nearly 8.5 million tonnes from Russia in May.
Reuters reported that the discount in oil prices amid Western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine was the reason for increased imports from China.
Chinese state-owned energy companies, such as refining giant Sinopec and Zhenhua Oil, have increased their purchase of Russian oil after Western firms pulled back due to war sanctions.
The Financial Times last month reported that independent refiners from China are buying Russian oil at discounts despite the Western countries imposing heavy sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
The news outlet cited an official from an independent refinery in Shandong, China, saying that it could not disclose agreements with Russian oil exporters to avoid scrutiny and possible sanctions from the West due to the Russia–Ukraine war.
In addition, China also imported oil from Iran despite U.S. sanctions, making it rank as the third oil supplier to the country.
The development contradicts information in April saying China’s oil firms reportedly tried to exit Russian oil contracts and would not buy more despite steep discounts.
Since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war, Beijing has repeatedly refused to condemn Russia for its invasion.
Beijing reportedly told its state-owned firms to find any opportunities for potential investments in Russian companies or assets, as Western companies abandoned the Russian market for the invasion of Ukraine. Oil giants such as BP, Shell, and Exxon Mobil walked away, eliminating their billion-dollar investments in the Russian energy industry.
According to Bloomberg, China planned to buy or increase the share of Russian enterprise energy and commodities corporations.