Many private Chinese refiners in the Shandong province are buying increasing volumes of Iranian crude as competition for Russian oil from China’s major state-held refiners and from Indian buyers has made Moscow’s barrels relatively more expensive.
China’s private refiners, the so-called teapots, are estimated to have imported 800,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Iranian crude oil and condensate in March, up by 20% compared to February, Emma Li, an analyst with Vortexa, told Bloomberg.
Imports from Iran into the Shandong province—home to most of the private refiners in China—could continue to be robust in the coming months, according to the analyst.
There isn’t official data on Iranian imports into China, so the market relies on tanker-tracking companies that aim to capture the true picture of how much of Iran’s oil, sanctioned by the U.S. and going to very few destinations these days, is being shipped to China.
The private refiners in the world’s top oil importer are now betting more on cheap Iranian crude, as Russian supply is going to the state-owned Chinese majors and to India’s refiners. Russia’s crude is also cheaper compared to international benchmarks, but heightened competition has driven up prices in recent weeks.
Russia was the single largest crude oil supplier to China in January and February, overtaking Saudi Arabia, which was the number-one supplier of oil to China last year, according to Chinese customs data from last month. As China accelerated the buying of cheap Russian crude oil at discounts to international benchmarks, Chinese imports of crude from Russia jumped by 23.8% year over year to 1.94 million barrels per day (bpd) in January and February 2023.
India, for its part, is also boosting imports of Russian oil to record levels. In February, Russia remained India’s top oil supplier for a fifth consecutive month.
Both India and China are not abiding by the G7 price cap as they seek opportunistic purchases of cheap crude.
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