Having already set its position as the biggest importer of oil and coal, China is also globally the third biggest user of natural gas behind US and Russia. However, it has to import around 40% of its total needs, as there is no balance between domestic production and demand.

According to data compiled from the Thomson Reuters Eikon terminal, the country's 2017 imports of pipeline gas and LNG will exceed 67 million tonnes, up by more than 25% from last year. LNG imports alone surged more than 50%. This data include LNG tanker arrivals to China and pipeline monthly import flow estimates, but do not contain December figures.

China's annual gas imports - around 83.5 million tonnes- are still lagging those of Japan, but its overall gas imports topped Japan’s in September and in November, according to government data and shipping flows as presented by Reuters. Therefore analysts suggest China should top Japan for the full year in 2018.

Namely, Miaoru Huang, Asia gas and LNG senior manager at Wood Mackenzie, was quoted as saying that China will overtake Japan as the world’s largest gas importer, with increasing LNG and pipeline imports in 2018, but Japan will remain as the first LNG importer till around 2028.

In the last year, the country has been struggling to improve air quality, which has led it to move several industrial facilities from coal to gas, sparking an unprecedented rally in overseas import orders.

China’s demand for natural gas will continue to rise as we reach 2040, exceeding domestic output by around 43 percent, according to an International Energy Agency report published in late 2017.

China’s surging demand already pushed it past South Korea in 2017 as the world’s second LNG importer.