Skip to main content

Iran’s oil exports to China hit 10-year high

Iran is growing politically and economically closer to China in light of US sanctions.
JOHNNY BUGEJA/AFP via Getty Images

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. 

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in