China reaps energy windfall as West shuns Russian supplies

SINGAPORE, Sept 14 (Reuters) - China is buying more and less expensive energy supplies from Russia this year, reaping the benefits of a plunge in European purchases just when Beijing needs it most as the Ukraine crisis pushes Moscow in search of alternative markets.

The growing cooperation, to be further deepened with Chinese President Xi Jinping's meeting with Russia's Vladimir Putin in Uzbekistan on Thursday, is a boon for both countries. read more

China has gained access to cheaper energy while Russia is able to offset losses from the European Union and other allies scaling back on purchases of Russian exports due to sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine. Moscow calls it a special military operation.

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China's electricity imports from Russia grow in 2022

Closer Chinese-Russian ties have also promoted the use of their yuan and rouble currencies in commodities trade, lessening reliance on the U.S. dollar. read more

China, the world's largest energy consumer and top buyer of crude oil, liquefied natural gas and coal, has imported 17% more Russian crude between April and July from the same period a year ago.

It has also bought over 50% more LNG and 6% more coal from Russia during the same period while electricity imports from Russia, mainly via a cross-broader transmission line connecting northeast China and Russia's Far East, soared by 39%.

China's oil, gas, coal and electricity purchases from Russia amount to $43.68 billion so far this year.

Russian crude oil gains market share in China despite decline in overall imports

Cheaper Russian energy supplies are helping to dampen inflation in China, where the economy narrowly avoided contracting in the second quarter amid COVID-19 lockdowns.

"The upcoming meeting between Xi and Putin will likely fortify China's ties with Russia in energy trade for mutual benefit, particularly at a time when Russia (is) grappling with intensified western sanctions while China is in need of low-cost energy to shore up its sagging economy tarnished by COVID lockdowns," said Zhuwei Wang, manager, Asia Oil Analytics, S&P Global Commodity Insights.

PROFITABLE TRADE

Russia became China's top crude supplier from May to July, accounting for 19% of China's imports, versus 15% in the same period of 2021, Chinese customs data showed.

Moscow's share could grow to more than 20% this year, Dutch bank ING said in August.

China saved about $3 billion in buying Russian oil versus other imports between April and July, according to Reuters calculation based on customs data. On average, China paid about $708 per tonne for Russian crude while the value of imports from the rest of countries was $816 per tonne.

For LNG, China's imports from Russia rose 26% in the first seven months from the same period a year earlier while exports jumped to 66,798 tonnes in July, the highest since 2019, on re-exports to Europe and Japan, the data showed.

China's LNG imports from Russia 2019-2022

"China is taking advantage of the disrupted trade flows, including by buying discounted Russian oil and LNG cargoes, while swapping out alternative volumes back into Europe at higher prices, delivering a profitable trade," said Saul Kavonic, head of Integrated Energy and Resources Research at Credit Suisse.

China also has long-term incentives for Russian supply as it strives to meet new carbon emissions targets and boosts gas consumption. That prompted a February deal for a new pipeline from Russia to start in the next two to three years. read more

BUILDING COAL STOCKS

China's coal imports from Russia jumped to their highest in at least five years in July, as it bought discounted coal while Europe shunned Russian cargoes ahead of a ban that came into force on Aug. 11. read more

Russian thermal coal with a heating value of 5,500 kilocalories (kcal) traded around $150 a tonne on a cost-and-freight basis in late July, while coal of the same quality at Australia's Newcastle port was assessed at more than $210 a tonne on a free-on-board (FOB) basis.

China has increased coal imports from Russia although it cut back overall imports of the fuel

Though Russian supplies meet only about 1% of Chinese needs, some traders expect more Russian coal to arrive in the fourth quarter when utilities build stocks for the winter heating season.

Analysts said that while the gains for China are clear, Russia remains more reliant on the trade than China.

"However the war is resolved, it is apparent that Russia can no longer rely on its major energy export markets in Europe for the foreseeable future, and the redirection of its energy and commodity exports towards the East will gather pace," Tilak Doshi, managing director of Doshi Consulting, said.

($1 = 6.9294 Chinese yuan)

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Writing by Dominique Patton; Editing by Florence Tan and Jacqueline Wong

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