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The new sanctions will target Iranian oil and gas sales. Photo: Reuters

China tells state-owned oil firms to stop buying from Iran ahead of new US sanctions

  • China National Petroleum and Sinopec told to halt purchases before new measures take effect on November 4
  • Companies that continue to buy Iranian oil risk being excluded from US financial system

China’s government has told at least two of its state oil companies to avoid purchasing Iranian oil as the US prepares to impose sanctions on the Islamic Republic, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The freeze on imports by China National Petroleum Corporation and Sinopec is temporary and purchases may resume depending on the outcome of negotiations with the US, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the information is confidential.

Companies that continue buying Iranian crude after sanctions take effect on November 4 face the risk of being cut off from the American financial system.

The decision precedes an upcoming meeting between President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump at the Group of 20 summit next month and coincides with flaring trade tensions between the countries.

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The sales freeze means Iran will lose out on sales to its top oil customer after a halt by other major buyers like Japan and South Korea.

Spokesmen for both CNPC and Sinopec declined to comment. Reuters reported earlier that the companies had made no bookings for November-loading Iranian oil.

“The Chinese side welcomes a practical solution that can maintain normal economic and trade cooperation with Iran,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a briefing on Wednesday.

The Chinese government’s move is in contrast to India, which has said it plans to continue taking limited volumes from the Gulf state in November.

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All nations are negotiating with the US for waivers from the restrictions.

In May Trump withdrew from an Iranian nuclear deal hammered out by his predecessor, Barack Obama, and said he would reimpose economic curbs lifted under that 2015 accord.

It was unclear if other companies in China would continue to buy from Iran.

The government has said it opposes unilateral sanctions.

In August US officials in August said they had been unable to persuade Beijing to cut Iranian oil imports, though it did agree not to increase them.

The world’s second largest economy also halted purchases of US crude in August for the first time since September 2016, according to US Census Bureau data, as the trade war between the nations escalated.

While global benchmark Brent crude topped US$85 a barrel earlier this month for the first time in four years, prices have since retreated as Saudi Arabia and other producers have said they will make efforts to fill any potential gap in supply.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: State energy giants ‘told to stop buying oil from Iranians’