China doubled down on imports of Iranian and Venezuelan crude in 2021, taking the most from the U.S.-sanctioned regimes in three years, as refiners brushed off the risk of penalties to scoop up cheap oil.
Crude processors in the world’s biggest importer were observed to have bought 324 million barrels from Iran and Venezuela in 2021, about 53% more than the year before, according to data from market intelligence firm Kpler. That’s the most since 2018, when China took 352 million barrels from the two nations.
Chinese buyers, particularly private refiners, have benefited from Washington’s tough line on Iran and Venezuela, continuing to buy their oil long after their counterparts elsewhere in Asia ceased purchases. The risk that non-U.S. entities may lose access to the U.S. financial system or have their American assets frozen if found guilty of breaching the sanctions hasn’t dissuaded them.
A glut of unsold cargoes, rising international prices, and the issuance of more crude import quotas by Beijing, have incentivized the private refiners, known as teapots, to snap up more oil from the pariah states. These shipments typically don’t show up in official customs data.