One month ago, we were surprised to read how, despite a suppressed appetite for energy amid its housing crash and economic downturn (for which “zero covid” has emerged as a convenient scapegoat for emperor Xi), China has been soaking up more Russian natural gas so far this year, while imports from most other sources declined.
In July, the SCMP reported that according to Chinese customs data, in the first six months of the year, China bought a total of 2.35 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) – valued at US$2.16 billion. The import volume increased by 28.7% year on year, with the value surging by 182%. It meant Russia has surpassed Indonesia and the United States to become China’s fourth-largest supplier of LNG so far this year!
This, of course, is not to be confused with pipeline gas, where Russian producer Gazprom recently announced that its daily supplies to China via the Power of Siberia pipeline had reached a new all-time high (Russia is China’s second-largest pipeline natural gas supplier after Turkmenistan), and earlier revealed that the supply of Russian pipeline gas to China had increased by 63.4% in the first half of 2022.
What was behind this bizarre surge in Russian LNG imports, analysts speculated? After all, while China imports over half of the natural gas it consumes, with around two-thirds in the form of LNG, demand this year had fallen sharply amid economic headwinds and widespread shutdowns. In other words, why the surge in Russian LNG when i) domestic demand is just not there and ii) at the expense of everyone else?
“The increase in Russian LNG could be a displacement of cargoes going to Japan or South Korea because of sanctions, or weaker demand there,” said Michal Meidan, director of the China Energy Programme at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.
One thing that was clear: China wanted to keep its arms-length gas dealing with Russia as unclear as possible, which is why the General Administration of Customs of China stopped publicizing the breakdown in trade volume for pipeline natural gas since the beginning of the year, with spokesman Li Kuiwen confirming that the move was to “protect the legitimate business rights and interests of the relevant importers and exporters”.
Well, we now know the answer: China has been quietly reselling that evil, tainted Russian LNG to the one place that desperately needs it more than anything. Europe… and of course, it is charging a kidney’s worth of markups in the process.
As the FT reported recently, “Europe’s fears of gas shortages heading into winter may have been circumvented, thanks to an unexpected white knight: China.” The Nikkei-owned publications further notes that “the world’s largest buyer of liquefied natural gas is reselling some of its surplus LNG cargoes due to weak energy demand at home. This has provided the spot market with an ample supply that Europe has tapped, despite the higher prices.”
What the FT ignores, perhaps intentionally, is that it’s not “surplus” – after all, if it was Chinese imports of Russian LNG would collapse. No – the correct word to describe the LNG that China sells to Europe is Russian.
Going back to the story, the details are intuitive: with Russian pipeline gas to Europe effectively shuttered…
… Europe’s imports of LNG have soared 60% year on year in the first six months of 2022, according to research firm Kpler.
Full article: China is aggressively reselling russian gas to Europe