China’s drive for cleaner skies has pushed it past Japan to become the world’s largest buyer of natural gas, a milestone for a nation that wasn’t even importing the fuel 15 years ago.
The development underscores how rapidly China is boosting natural gas use at the expense of dirtier fuels like oil and coal to meet President Xi Jinping’s pollution-cutting goals. Governments, especially in the country’s northern regions, have forced millions of homes and factories to replace coal boilers with gas burners.
China imported 7.41 million metric tons of natural gas through pipelines and seaborne tankers in May, according to data released Saturday by the General Administration of Customs. That puts it at 34.9 million tons for the first five months of the year. Japan’s imports during that period total 34.5 million tons, according to its Ministry of Finance. China bought more than Japan in some months last year, but this is the first time its cumulative imports during a year have been higher.
The nation’s soaring natural gas demand has been a boon for the global liquefied natural gas market. China’s on track to become the world’s biggest LNG importer by 2021 as growth in domestic production and pipelines won’t be able to keep pace with needs, analysts at JPMorgan Chase & Co. said in a report June 15.
LNG became the biggest source of China’s overseas gas supply most months over the past year. The nation imported 4.15 million tons of the fuel via tanker last month, compared with 3.27 million tons by pipeline, Saturday’s data show. Piped gas supplies could get a boost late next year when Russia starts up its Power of Siberia pipeline.
China’s first liquefied natural gas terminal opened in 2004 and its first major import pipeline was commissioned in 2009.