The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
China Slashes Oil Imports From Iran, Saudis Lend A Hand

China, the largest consumer of Iranian oil, cut its oil imports from Iran by half in February from December levels, according to Reuters.

Although this reduction is temporary and largely due to a contract dispute between Tehran and Beijing rather than U.S. sanctions, it’s significant that China is expected to import 10–15 percent less oil from Iran this year compared to 2011. Given that China currently accounts for roughly 20 percent of Iran’s oil exports, the economic pressure on the mullahs is likely to intensify. For various reasons, be it contract disputes, American sanctions, or prudent attempts to diversify their energy supply, Europe, China and other countries have all recently announced they are scaling back or halting the import of Iranian oil.

The Chinese turned primarily to Saudi Arabia to make up for the loss, and the Saudis were happy to oblige:

Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi said the kingdom had met all its customer’s requests for oil and stood ready to raise output to full capacity of 12.5 million bpd, if needed.

“My only mission is to convey to you that there is no supply shortage in the market,” Naimi told reporters on Tuesday. “We are ready and willing to put more oil on the market, but you need a buyer.”

So long as Saudi Arabia and other major oil producers are able to limit any shortfall caused by a drop-off from Iran, expect the noose to continue to tighten. And consumed by hatred and fear of the Iranians as the Saudis are, expect them to do everything possible to keep the oil pumping as a way of easing the path to war.

Published on March 21, 2012 5:35 pm
  • Kris

    Another example of the Saudi conundrum. The US and Saudi Arabia are intrinsic enemies, but each finds the other an invaluable ally.

  • Alex Weiner

    Someone somewhere could also consume less oil as well.

  • Jim.

    This is not an Iran story. This is a China story.

    The noose tightens until Iran cuts a deal with China on terms very favorable to China.

    China is waging trade wars, and it looks like they’re winning them handily.

    Do we have that sort of competence or strategic thought in our government? I haven’t seen it, if there is.

  • http://knownofold.blogspot.com J R Yankovic

    Amen to all the above.

    And re Jim.’s question, I think the most plausible answer is “No.”