China's crude-oil imports from Iran last year were up 30% from 2010, to 27.76 million metric tons, China's General Administration of Customs reported Saturday. That works out to about 557,000 barrels a day, The Wall Street Journal reported.
China's overall crude imports were up just 6.1%.
Beijing has steadfastly defended its relationship with Iran, the No. 3 supplier of crude to its energy-hungry economy, as the U.S. and Europe try to increase pressure on Iran over its nuclear activities.
China's imports from Iran could decline in the months ahead due to a dispute over commercial issues between China International United Petroleum & Chemicals Co., known as Unipec, and National Iranian Oil Co. Unipec has skipped imports of about 220,000 barrels a day from Iran in January and further delays could affect February orders as well.
For December, China's overall crude imports came to to 21.92 million tons, up 5.1% from a year earlier, customs data showed. At 5.18 million barrels a day, that was still short of analysts' estimates of between 5.5 million and 6 million barrels a day.
High refinery runs had led analysts to forecast higher imports: Refinery throughput in December was the highest ever, likely due to the stockpiling of refined oil products ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday. One reason for the mismatch between imports and throughput could be that more crude was drawn from storage in December, analysts said. China's commercial crude stocks fell for a third consecutive month in December, the official Xinhua news agency said Thursday in its fortnightly OGP energy newsletter.
China's imports of refined oil products in December were underpinned by fuel oil imports, up 30% to 2.64 million tons. Diesel imports were down 41% to 270,822 tons, while diesel exports were down 65% to 60,861 tons. Kerosene imports were down 22% to 669,079 tons.
China's full-year crude imports totaled 253.78 million tons, the data showed. At 6.1%, the growth rate was down sharply from 2010's 18%, which may be related to China's slowing economy. Gross domestic product in the third quarter was up 9.1% from a year earlier, easing from the 9.5% pace of the second quarter and 9.7% of the first quarter. Some economists have warned of further deceleration to 8% this year.