New refinery capacity and strategic inventory stockpiling combined with declining domestic oil production, contributed in making China world's largest crude oil importer. Total liquids production in China averaged 4.8 million b/d in 2017.

More than half of China’s crude oil imports (56%) came from countries within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), declining from 67% in 2012.

Credit: EIA

Furthermore, China has transformed its refining sector by reducing restrictions on both imports and exports. Since 2015, China awarded crude oil import licenses to independent refineries in northeast China, which have increased refinery utilization and crude oil imports.

China’s also increased its crude oil imports due to higher refinery runs and expanded refinery capacity. In fact, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation’s (CNOOC) Huizhou refinery increased its capacity by 200,000 b/d and increased its imports from various sources in the third and fourth quarters of 2017.

Infrastructure expansions are expected to further increase China’s crude oil imports. Almost 1.4 million b/d of new refinery capacity is planned to open in China by the end of 2019, with imports likely to increase over the next two years.