Contradicting trade officials, the IRGC-linked Fars news agency has once again insisted that Iran is selling more than a million barrels p/d of oil to China.
In a report Sunday, Fars accused officials of the Tehran Chamber of Commerce of wrongfully declaring that Iran's crude oil exports to China have dropped to around 1,000 bpd, because they are allegedly opposed to "neutralization of [US] oil sanctions". Fars also accused the chamber of sabotaging Iran's relations with China.
In a tweet Saturday, Chairman of the Tehran Chamber of Commerce Masoud Khansari said Iran's oil exports to China "drastically dropped" in the first seven months of the current Iranian calendar year which began 21 March. According to Khansari in the first seven months of 2021 Iran exported just $11 million of crude oil to China in comparison with $9.5 billion in 2018 before Donald Trump imposed sanctions on Iranian oil in November of that year.
Since then, Khansari said, other countries in the region, presumably Saudi Arabia, which is now exporting more oil to China, have taken Iran’s market sahre. "With the continuation of sanctions, the Iranian economy will lose more [trade] opportunities," he argued.
"Why does an entity such as the Tehran Chamber of Commerce which is fully aware of the [extent of the] Iran, China oil trade try to sabotage the relations between Iran and China in the domestic sphere with such wrong information?" Fars asked in a section of its report under the subhead "Tehran Chamber of Commerce's Conflict of Interest with Expansion of Iran, China Cooperation in Neutralizing Oil Sanctions".
Fars also alleged that reports published by the Tehran Chamber of Commerce on the subject "all of a sudden spread suspiciously in the society by certain news websites".
Fars also argued that data from OPEC, tanker-tracking companies and government reports prove that the total crude and natural gas condensates that Iran exports to China still exceed one million barrels a day.
In fact, observers believe that the oil shipments are not directly going from Iran to Chinese buyers. Middlemen buy the oil and through illicit means sell it to China claiming a different origin for the oil.
China is a diplomatic ally of the Islamic Republic but so far it has avoided openly challenging US sanctions. China might be indeed clandestinely importing hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude a day via third party channels, but Iran gains little from this trade as intermediaries take most of the profits and often deliver goods instead of cash.
Official figures released by China's Customs show no direct oil purchase from Iran in 2021. But in March Bloomberg claimed that details from third-party sources indicated that Iranian oil was often re-branded as purchases from other countries and such exports had even surged.
There have also been reports recently that China is enforcing US sanctions on Iranian shipping. According to some officials, Chinese vessels now avoid Iranian ports and Iranian ships are not allowed into Chinese ports.
The news about China’s compliance with US sanctions might be embarrassing for hardline supporters of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who have been trumpeting Iran’s “Looking East” policy. Khamenei promulgated the policy in 2018, saying that Iran should adopt an Eastern orientation of relying on China and Russia for business and commerce in the face of US sanctions.