China Overtakes Japan as World’s Second-largest Oil Importer

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June 26 – China overtook Japan as the world’s second-largest crude oil importer in May, importing 16.18 tons of crudel (3.81 million bpd), an increase of 25 percent from a year ago.

“It’s a symbol of the era,” Akira Kamiyama told Forbes, derivatives trader at Mitsui & Co. “Japan’s imports will be capped, but China’s imports will grow fast, with no end in sight.” China’s imports are growing quickly as double-digit economic growth and low, state-set domestic fuel prices drive demand in the world’s most populous nation.

Analysts expect China’s crude imports to get support from this month onward after Beijing’s surprise decision to raise gasoline and diesel prices by nearly a fifth last week revived refining margins, encouraging them to step up production.

China’s announcement this month that it would speed up building commercial oil reserves to cope with turbulence in the oil market should help support China’s imports, Kamiyama added.

For the first five months of 2008, however, Japan held a comfortable lead over China. Both still lag far behind the United States, which imports some 10 million bpd of crude.

China’s crude imports in the year through May are up 12.7 percent at 3.65 million bpd, while Japan’s imports rose 7 percent to 4.32 million bpd in January-May, according to Reuters calculations.