China’s crude oil imports from Russia soared to a record level in May, customs data showed on Monday, as Beijing ramps up its purchase of oil at discounted prices amid Western sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.
China’s imports of Russian crude hit a record of 8.42 million metric tons in May, a jump of 55% from a year earlier, the data showed.
The jump in import made Russia China’s top supplier of oil overtaking Saudi Arabia.
China’s overall imports from Russia spiked 80% from a year ago in May to $10.3 billion, customs data said.
“Apart from oil, Beijing’s purchases of liquefied natural gas from Russia also surged 54 percent on-year in May to 397,000 tonnes, even as overall imports of the fuel fell,” the AFP reported on Monday.
The new data comes against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, with buyers from the US and Europe cutting down on importing Russian energy or pledging to gradually stop importing it entirely in the months ahead.
Since February 24, the day Russia attacked Ukraine, Beijing has refused to publicly condemn Moscow’s actions or call them an invasion.
Instead, it has blamed the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) for provoking the war in Ukraine.
Half of the Russian oil transported by ship is now heading for Asia, mainly to China and India, according to a Bloomberg analysis published last week.
And China in fact is planning to buy more energy from Russia.
According to a state media report, China National Petroleum Corporation’s deputy general manager Huang Yongzhang held a video talk on Thursday with the vice-president of Russia’s Gazprom during which they signed a technical agreement on a Russia-China Far East Gas Supply project to strengthen energy cooperation.
“In 2021, China’s imports of energy products from Russia reached 334.29 billion yuan, a year-on-year increase of 47.4 percent, accounting for 65.3 percent of China’s total imports from Russia that year,” according to statistics released by the General Administration of Customs and quoted by the state-run Global Times.
Earlier this month, Indian external affairs minister, S Jaishankar brushed aside criticism of New Delhi’s decision to buy discounted oil from Russia with one point of criticism being that it was blunting the impact of Western sanctions on Moscow.
“If Europe manages in a way that impacts on the economy is not traumatic, that freedom or choice should exist for other people as well. India is not sending people out ‘saying go buy Russian oil’, buy the best oil in the market, no political messaging should be attached to this,” Jaishankar said at the GLOBSEC 2022 Forum in Bratislava.
New Delhi has also not condemned Russia, given its longstanding political and security ties with Moscow, and has instead called for an end to violence in Ukraine.