Feb. 5 (UPI) -- Last year, China imported about a half million more barrels of oil per day than the United States, the world's leading economy, U.S. federal data show.
China became the world's No. 1 importer of petroleum and other products five years ago. Last year, it imported 8.4 million barrels of oil per day on average, beating out the United States by 500,000 barrels per day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
China, the second-largest economy in the world behind the United States, reported in January that gross domestic product expanded 6.9 percent from 2016, beating expectations by about 0.2 percent. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, it's the first time annual growth has improved in seven years.
The U.S. Commerce Department reported fourth quarter GDP grew at an annual rate of 2.6 percent, against 3.2 percent for the third quarter. For the year, GDP increased 2.3 percent, an improvement from the 1.5 percent achieved in 2016, but below President Donald Trump's target of 3 percent.
The United States, meanwhile, is rivaling Saudi Arabia in terms of total U.S. crude oil production, exporting some of that to the open market. The spread, or difference, between West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark for the price of oil, and Brent, the global benchmark, makes U.S. oil competitive in some markets.
EIA reported that Russia, however, is the largest oil supplier to the Chinese market. Russia last year exported about 1.2 million barrels per day on average to China, compared with the average 1 million barrels per day from Saudi Arabia.
"Given China's expected decline in domestic crude oil production, imports will likely continue to increase over at least the next two years," EIA's report read.
The launch of the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline in 2010 was described by Russian President Vladimir Putin as a strategic victory for a Russian energy sector looking to capitalize on Asian economy success.
Oil demand from China in November, the last full month for which data are available, was 9 million barrels per day -- the second highest on record.