The United States is upping the ante in its effort to sanction Iran, and its efforts may further complicate its ongoing trade war with China and affect the flow of oil worldwide.
On August 16, the head of the new Iran Action Group, Brian Hook, announced that the U.S. would sanction any country that purchased oil from Iran after the November 4 deadline. China has shown no indication that it plans to cooperate with the U.S., and Hook did not rule out imposing secondary sanctions on China if it continues its purchases of Iranian oil.
While other importers of Iranian crude, including Japan and South Korea, had scaled back their purchases, China has actually increased its imports from Iran.
In August China announced a round of tariffs on U.S. goods, including some oil products, though it exempted U.S. crude from the list.
Nevertheless, Chinese imports of U.S. energy products has been on the decline. A ship-tracking report noted that not a single U.S. tanker has departed for China in August. Should the U.S.-Chinese trade war worsen, China may turn towards alternative sources of energy, including Russia or Iran. That would be a real blow to U.S. energy suppliers like Cheniere Energy Inc., which ships LNG to China.
China is the second-largest market for U.S. energy goods. In May it averaged 427,000 bpd of U.S. imports, surpassing Canada, which imported 289,000 bpd, according to the EIA.
Right now, Chinese importers like Unipec have adopted a “wait and see” attitude towards buying US crude, despite the fact that it was left off the Chinese government’s tariff list.
For China, the situation may involve choosing between Iran and the U.S. American energy products have been attractive for Chinese importers, but the geopolitical advantages of cozying up to Tehran may outweigh the economic benefits of sticking with U.S. crude.
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