China’s Russian energy imports balloon to $118 billion since Ukraine war

Russia has overtaken Saudi Arabia as China's biggest crude oil supplier. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - In the year since Russia invaded Ukraine, roiling energy markets across the globe, China’s appetite for Moscow’s oil, gas and coal has grown apace, with imports rising by more than half.

Beijing’s spending on Russian energy, including crude oil and related products, coal and natural gas, ballooned to US$88 billion (S$118 billion) in the year to February, according to Chinese Customs figures, replacing other buyers that have shunned Russian exports because of the war. This compared with US$57 billion in the previous 12 months.

China’s growing share of Russian exports is key to the increasingly asymmetric relationship between China and Russia, laid bare during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow this week. Russia receives a reliable source of funding for its war machine in spite of international sanctions, while its energy-hungry neighbour gets to gorge on vast flows of fossil fuels, often bought at discounted rates.

The import data over the period showed that Russia was China’s top supplier of crude, supplanting Saudi Arabia. It was also its second-biggest source of coal after Indonesia, and No. 3 for liquefied natural gas (LNG) after Australia and Qatar. The last ranking does not include the volumes of gas piped overland, which China stopped reporting at the start of last year.

Crude imports from Russia had climbed to 89.3 million tonnes since the invasion of Ukraine, up from 78.4 million tonnes in the previous period, and pipping Saudi Arabia’s 86.8 million tonnes. Purchases of Russian LNG soared 52 per cent to 6.86 million tonnes, while coal rose 33 per cent to 76.4 million tonnes.

The increased appetite for Russian commodities came against a backdrop of broadly weaker Chinese demand in 2022, as China’s zero-Covid policy, a property market in crisis and slowing growth worldwide combined to keep a lid on its imports.

Among materials, refined aluminium imports nearly doubled to 538,607 tonnes, supporting Russian production as international sanctions cut trade to its usual buyers in Europe and elsewhere. REUTERS

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