Customs data showed Monday that China ramped up crude oil imports from Russia in May, helping to offset Russia’s losses from western nations’ sanctions.
Sanctions had scaled back patronage of Russia’s energy over the invasion of Ukraine.
The recent spike, however, means Russia has now overtaken Saudi Arabia to become China’s top oil provider as the West continues to sanction Moscow’s energy exports.
The world’s second-biggest economy imported around 8.42 million tonnes of oil from Russia last month – a 55 percent on-year rise – as Beijing continues to refuse to publicly condemn Moscow’s war while exacting economic gains from its isolated neighbour.
China imported 7.82 million tonnes of oil from Saudi Arabia in May.
In total, China bought $7.47 billion worth of Russian energy products last month, about $1 billion more than in April.
The new customs data comes four months into the war in Ukraine, with buyers from the US and Europe shunning Russian energy imports or pledging to slash them over the coming months.
But while European powers were scaling back and Russia’s energy exports were falling, Asian demand was helping to staunch some of those losses, especially in China and India.
According to the International Energy Agency’s latest global oil report, India has overtaken Germany as the second-largest importer of Russian crude in the last two months.
China had been Russia’s biggest market for crude oil since 2016.
Days before Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s President Xi Jinping greeted his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Beijing, with the two countries declaring a bilateral relationship of “no limits.”
Although demand in China remained muted, there had been some improvement in the past month as cities began to loosen virus restrictions after the country’s worst COVID-19 outbreak since the early days of the pandemic.
This had allowed some supply chain problems to ease, and industrial production to pick up, official data showed.