The most recent Customs figures indicate that China's monthly oil imports hit a record high in September with a daily average of 448,700 tons.
A total of 13.46 million tons of crude oil was imported last month, up 24 percent on 2005, breaking the previous record set in January of this year by 2.4 percent.
"Price drops in the global market have undoubtedly caused imports to rise," said Yang Fuqiang, vice president and chief representative of the Energy Foundation of the US.
Yang predicted the price would drop from the July peak of US$77 per barrel to US$45 or lower before the end of the year. The price cuts were mainly triggered by the production schedule of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the latest developments in the Iran nuclear issue and the fading US summer consumption peak.
Another factor contributing to the record imports is China's huge domestic demand. The latest monthly report from the International Energy Agency projected an annual growth of 6.4 percent for China's oil imports this year. This is twice as much as the 2005 level.
Since China's first strategic oil reserve was put into operation in Zhenhai, east China's Zhejiang Province, market speculation of a surge in oil imports has been rife.
But Yang said that strategic reserves wouldn't have a marked effect on China's oil imports. The biggest influence would come, as ever, from heavyweight purchasers such as Sinopec and PetroChina, he observed.
The Chinese government has become increasingly concerned with the surging domestic oil demand and is seeking to restrain consumption by developing alternative energy sources such as bio-diesel and ethanol fuel.
Earlier this year export tax rebates for energy-consuming commodities were removed. Experts say this may also assist in curbing the demand for crude and refinery oil products.
(China Daily October 18, 2006)