China imports record crude oil volumes in first-half 2023

China recorded a surge in crude oil imports during first-half 2023, driven by refinery capacity expansions and efforts to revitalize the economy following the relaxation of COVID-19 mobility restrictions, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) said, based on analysis of data from China’s General Administration of Customs.

In this period, China imported an average of 11.4 million b/d of crude oil, marking a 12% increase compared with the 2022 annual average of 10.2 million b/d.

Notably, during first-half 2023, China’s crude oil imports increased from eight of the top ten countries it imported crude oil from in 2022, according to China’s General Administration of Customs data.

“China sourced much of the additional crude oil it imported in first-half 2023 from Russia, Iran, Brazil, and the US. Compared with 2022 averages, China’s imports from Russia increased by 23% (400,000 b/d), from Saudi Arabia by 7% (130,000 b/d), and from Brazil by 49% (250,000 b/d). The 2.6 million b/d of crude oil that China imported from Russia in June is the largest volume China has ever imported from any country in any month. China’s imports from the US in first-half 2023 more than doubled from 2022,” EIA said.

Customs data also revealed a 330,000 b/d (46%) increase in imports from Malaysia, reaching 1 million b/d during first-half 2023. During this period, China’s imports from Malaysia exceeded Malaysia’s total oil production. Industry analysts said much of the oil that shipped from Iran to China was relabeled as originating from countries such as Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Oman to avoid sanctions.

According to its General Administration of Customs, refiners in China used the crude oil to process a record 14.7 million b/d of crude oil in first-half 2023, an 8% increase from 2022’s annual average of 13.5 million b/d and more than China’s record-high annual average, set in 2021.

New refinery capacity was one reason for the record crude oil processing. The 320,000-b/d Shenghong Petrochemical refinery in Lianyungang City began operations in November 2022, and the 400,000-b/d PetroChina Jieyang refinery began trial runs in February 2023.

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