Saudi Arabia dropped from the top spot to number three, below even Angola, with sales falling to 722,000 b/d, down almost 43 per cent from the month before.
Sino-Russian ties have warmed as sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine have strained Moscow’s relations with the west.
Analysts said the data were the result of a string of oil-for-loan deals that China, which is in the process of overtaking the US as the world’s biggest importer of crude
, has signed with Russian oil companies including state-backed Rosneft.
“Russian imports are likely to stay high over the next several years as these long-term crude supply contracts kick in,“ said Amrita Sen, head of oil research at Energy Aspects in London.
伦敦咨询机构Energy Aspects石油研究负责人阿姆里塔•森(Amrita Sen)说：“随着这些长期原油供应合同的履行，未来几年来自俄罗斯的进口很可能继续保持高位。“
“By our records, which started in 2007, this is the first time Russia is China’s top crude supplier,“ she added.
The data can be volatile and still show Saudi Arabia as a major supplier to China — the kingdom’s April exports were the highest in three years. But the latest import numbers illustrate how Russia, the largest exporter outside the Opec cartel, is gaining ground.
Russian exports to China have more than doubled since 2010. The figures also show how China is importing more from countries where it can bring its financial muscle into the equation.
“This trend only depicts the inevitable problem that Middle Eastern producers are going to face in China,“ said Ed Morse, Citigroup’s global head of commodities research.
Loan-for-oil deals with Russia, as well as other countries such as Brazil, will “make it more difficult for Saudi Arabia, Iraq and others to compete for market share in China“, he added. Additional oil from Iran if sanctions are lifted will only increase the struggle.
The US shale oilrevolution has reduced the country’s dependence on oil from the Middle East, west Africa and Latin America, prompting exporter countries to search for alternative buyers. They have accelerated their pivot towards Asia and sought outa greater share of Chinese imports.
China, which for a long time has paid a premium for foreign oil, is now spoilt for choice.
Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran are aggressively marketing their crude with oil officials making trips to Beijing this year.
Although Chinese imports fell 11 per cent year-on-year in May to 5.5m b/d they remain strong even as economic growth has slowed. It is adding refining capacity to meet its energy needs and demographic changes are set to propel oil demand in years to come.