Record volumes of crude oil were imported into China during the first half of 2023 because of refinery expansions in the country and initiatives to reopen the economy after the government eased COVID-19 mobility restrictions. China imported an average of 11.4 million barrels of crude oil per day (b/d) in the first half of 2023, a 12% increase from 2022’s annual average of 10.2 million b/d.

In the first half of 2023, China's crude oil imports increased from 8 of the 10 top countries it imported crude oil from in 2022, according to China’s General Administration of Customs data.

China sourced much of the additional crude oil it imported in the first half of 2023 from Russia, Iran, Brazil, and the United States. Compared with 2022 averages, China’s imports from Russia increased by 23% (400,000 b/d), from Saudi Arabia by 7% (130,000 b/d), and from Brazil by 49% (250,000 b/d). The 2.6 million b/d of crude oil that China imported from Russia in June is the largest volume China has ever imported from any country in any month. China’s imports from the United States in the first half of 2023 more than doubled from 2022.

Customs data also indicate that imports from Malaysia increased 330,000 b/d (46%) to 1.0 million b/d in the first half of 2023. During this period, the import volume from Malaysia exceeded total production in Malaysia. Industry analysts indicate that much of the oil that was shipped from Iran to China was relabeled as originating from countries such as Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman to avoid sanctions.

According to its General Administration of Customs, refiners in China used the crude oil to process a record 14.7 million b/d of crude oil in the first half of 2023, an 8% increase from 2022’s annual average of 13.5 million b/d and more than China’s record-high annual average, set in 2021.

New refinery capacity was one reason for the record crude oil processing. The 320,000-b/d Shenghong Petrochemical refinery in Lianyungang began operations in November 2022, and the 400,000-b/d PetroChina Jieyang refinery began trial runs in February 2023.