Chinese state oil giants and major private refiners are sweeping up more Russian crude, supporting prices and forcing smaller independents to seek out cheap alternatives such as Iranian oil, according to trade sources and shipping data.

The demand from China’s biggest buyers, which had shied away from Russian crude in the immediate aftermath of Western sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine, shows growing confidence in the trade after state refiners PetroChina and Sinopec resumed imports in February.

Large private oil refiners Hengli Petrochemical and Jiangsu Eastern Shenghong Co started receiving Russian crude from March, attracted by wide discounts for the oil, according to traders and shiptracking data from Refinitiv, Kpler and Vortexa.

Four cargoes of about 740,000 barrels each of low-sulphur ESPO crude discharged at Hengli’s Dalian berth in March while another two arrived in April, the Kpler data showed. Shenghong imported a Urals crude cargo of about 720,000 barrels in March and 1 million barrels in April.

In April, PetroChina received a Urals crude cargo of 1 million barrels via Myanmar’s Made Island port, which is linked by pipeline to its Yunnan refinery, the Kpler data showed.

PetroChina, Hengli and Shenghong did not reply to requests for comment.

China’s overall Russian crude imports, including pipeline and ships, rose to a record 9.61 million tonnes, or 2.26 million barrels per day (bpd) in March.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2023.

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