China imports more oil from the Middle East than any other region of the world. In 2011, China imported 2.9 million barrels per day (b/d) of Middle Eastern oil, which accounted for 60 percent of China’s oil imports. For comparison, the United States imported 2.5 million barrels per day of oil from the Middle East in 2011, accounting for 26 percent of US oil imports.
China’s largest crude oil supplier is Saudi Arabia, which provided China with one-fifth of its crude oil imports -- almost 1.1 million b/d – last year. Saudi Arabia has been China’s top crude oil supplier for the past decade. The Kingdom has established itself as a very reliable supplier in both word and deed. Saudi officials have repeatedly reassured the Chinese that they can count on Saudi Arabia to provide China with the oil it needs for continued economic growth. Saudi Aramco has backed up this commitment with its participation in a joint venture refinery in China’s Fujian Province, which processes Saudi crude.
China’s oil imports from Iran-- its fourth largest supplier in 2012 and third largest supplier for most of the previous decade-- have recently declined, probably as a result of US sanctions aimed at reducing Iran’s revenue from crude oil exports. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 prescribes penalties for foreign financial institutions which do business with the Central Bank of Iran, the main clearinghouse for oil payments, but also grants 180-day exemptions to countries that “significantly reduce” oil imports from Iran. China’s imports of Iranian crude have fallen from 555,000 b/d in 2011 to 439,000 b/d in 2012 to 402,000 b/d during the period January-April 2013. These reductions earned China exemptions in June and December 2012 and June 2013.