The world’s biggest oil importer purchased about 800,000 barrels a day of Iranian oil, the highest since August, customs data cited by Reuters on Wednesday showed.
Last month, the United States decided to stop its waivers which allowed eight countries to buy oil from Iran despite Washington’s unilateral sanctions on the country.
China is Iran’s biggest oil client and the US decision has added another fault line to already strained relations between Washington and Beijing which has formally complained to the United States over the move.
Companies such as Sinopec and China National Petroleum Corp have invested billions of dollars in Iranian oil fields and recoup their money by sending oil from the fields to China.
China has reportedly offered Iran a $3-billion deal on further development of an oilfield the two sides are already working on.
On Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang dismissed reports of a trade agreement between Beijing and Washington, committing China to reduce its imports of oil from Iran.
“I have no idea what is your source of information. I have not heard of that,” he said during a news conference after being queried by a reporter.
Geng said last month China is resolutely opposed to the United States enforcing unilateral sanctions or “long armed jurisdiction”. The US decision against Iran will contribute to volatility in the Middle East and in the international energy market, he said.
“China urges the US side to earnestly respect China’s interests and concerns and not take any wrong actions that harm China’s interests,” the spokesman said.
According to customs data, China bought 29.27 million tonnes, or about 585,400 barrels a day of Iranian crude oil, last year.
Analysts say it is not easy - at least in the short term - to source this volume of crude from other countries.
Some of Chinese refineries are configured to process Iranian grades which yield better margins than those supplied by other exporters such as Saudi Arabia, according to China’s refinery officials.
China has lashed out at a US decision to terminate waivers for Iran oil imports, saying the move will “intensify turmoil” in the trouble Middle East region.