Iran’s oil exports to China are at a 10-year high, according to data revealed on Tuesday.
Iran is exporting 1.5 million barrels per day of crude oil to China in August, the highest figure since 2013. It's also substantially higher than the 917,000 bpd Iran averaged in exports to China during the first seven months of the year, according to data by the international data intelligence firm Kpler, cited by Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency.
Why it matters: Iran and China are growing closer together. In March, China brokered the agreement that resumed diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Last month, Iran became a full member of the China and Russia-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
China has also been Iran’s top trading partner since 2022, though Iran was China’s 50th largest trading partner last year, according to a July primer from the US Institute of Peace.
The increasing Iranian oil exports to China come in defiance of US sanctions, which prohibit deals with the Islamic Republic’s energy industry. Former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed the harsh sanctions. President Joe Biden has maintained them as talks between his administration and Iran have failed to yield a new agreement.
The reimposed sanctions have hurt Iran’s oil industry. Iran's oil exports were more than 2.5 million bpd in 2018, but fell to 100,000 bpd in 2020, according to Reuters.
However, Iran’s oil exports are on the rise again. In May and June, exports averaged 1.6 million bpd. This was more than double the figure at the same time in 2022 and the highest since 2018. China is Iran’s largest oil customer, with Syria and Venezuela also receiving sizable amounts of Iranian oil, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The increase of Iranian oil exports to China also owes to the People’s Republic easing its probe into imports of bitumen, a sticky black liquid that is sometimes disguised as Iranian crude, according to Bloomberg.
Know more: A group of Republicans in Congress urged the Biden administration last month to impose further sanctions targeting Iranian oil sales to China.
Correction: Aug. 31, 2023. An earlier version of this article referenced recent increases in Iran’s oil production, however, the numbers were for Iran’s oil exports.