China Passes U.S. as World’s Largest Oil Importer

The World
How It Works
Oct. 11 2013 5:08 PM

China Passes U.S. as World’s Largest Oil Importer

72994492
BEIJING, CHINA - JANUARY 14: (CHINA OUT) A worker fuels a car in front of a dragon decoration at a gas station January 14, 2007 in Beijing, China.

Photo by China Photos/Getty Images

My colleague Will Oremus noted earlier this week that the United States recently overtook Russia to become the world’s largest oil and gas producer, but that isn’t the only recent major shift in world energy markets. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, “China passed the United States in September as the world's biggest net oil importer, driven by faster economic growth and strong auto sales.”

China’s consumption was 6.3 million barrels more than its production in September compared to 6.1 million in the United States. China’s imports are expected to rise to 9.2 million by 2020.

Advertisement

There are a couple of caveats on this story, as Samuel Wade of China Digital Times notes. For one, the U.S. still imports more oil overall, but this is offset by its exports. The U.S. also still dwarfs China, which has three times more people, in per capita consumption.   

All the same, it’s a major symbolic shift and one that will likely have major geopolitical as well as environmental implications. The need for secure oil exports has obviously been an important factor in U.S. foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East. But today, Saudi Arabia exports nearly as much oil to China as to the United States and China will soon be importing more oil from the Persian Gulf than the United States did at its 2001 peak.

Compared to the U.S., China’s diplomatic and military footprint in the Middle East is still modest. But it may soon feel the need to make its presence a bit more felt.  

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 22 2014 2:05 PM Paul Farmer Says Up to Ninety Percent of Those Infected Should Survive Ebola. Is He Right?
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 22 2014 2:27 PM Facebook Made $595 Million in the U.K. Last Year. It Paid $0 in Taxes
  Life
Dear Prudence
Oct. 23 2014 6:00 AM Monster Kids from poorer neighborhoods keep coming to trick-or-treat in mine. Do I have to give them candy?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 10:00 AM On the Internet, Men Are Called Names. Women Are Stalked and Sexually Harassed.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 10:39 PM Avengers: Age of Ultron Looks Like a Fun, Sprawling, and Extremely Satisfying Sequel
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 2:59 PM Netizen Report: Twitter Users Under Fire in Mexico, Venezuela, Turkey
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.