BEIJING, Jan 26 (Reuters) – Russia beat out Saudi Arabia as China's top crude oil supplier for the fourth month in 2015 in December due to robust demand from independent Chinese refiners that prefer shipments from the Far East over high-sulphur barrels from the Middle East.
Russia strengthened its position in Asia by supplying nearly a quarter more crude to the region in 2015, shifting the balance of power in one of the few bright spots in the global market and blunting the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries' high-profile drive to win customers.
China is one of the top targets for Russian oil after small, independent oil plants nicknamed "teapots" won the right to import crude for the first time just several months ago and hectically started placing orders towards the end of last year.
"These new plants were in a rush to use new quotas. But logistically they are not equipped to buy larger shipments from the Middle East or West Africa," said a Beijing-based official involved in marketing Middle Eastern oil.
"Russian cargoes, like ESPO, suit them."
China's December imports from Russia hit a record of 4.81 million tonnes, or 1.13 million barrels per day (bpd), up 29 percent over a year ago, Chinese customs data showed.
Imports from Saudi Arabia, the world's top exporter, were down 1.2 percent on year last month at 1.05 million bpd.
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