Beijing: China, the world's second-biggest oil consumer, increased crude imports in May to a record high as refineries raised processing rates and oil prices declined.

The country bought a net 25.3 million metric tons, or 5.98 million barrels a day, more than it exported last month, according to data published today on the website of the Beijing-based General Administration of Customs. That compares with the previous high of 5.87 million barrels a day in February.

The jump in oil purchases helped spur a 12.7 per cent gain for the nation's imports last month, exceeding economists' estimates. Refineries boosted processing rates last month as some facilities resumed operations after scheduled maintenance while Brent oil in London entered a so-called bear market on June 1 after sliding more than 20 percent from this year's peak.

Emergency stockpiles

"International crude oil prices have been falling in the past two months, so more crude was probably shipped in to fill commercial and state emergency stockpiles" as prices could rise again, Gong Jinshuang, a Beijing-based senior engineer at China National Petroleum Corp., the nation's biggest oil company, said by telephone.

Purchases cost an average $120 a barrel, compared with about $123 in April, Bloomberg calculations from the customs data showed. China's imports of crude were 25.48 million tons in May, while exports were 180,000 tons.

Utilisation rates at the nation's biggest refineries rebounded to the highest level in 16 weeks at 86.3 per cent of capacity as of May 24, according to, a Shandong-based industry website.

China's net fuel imports, including gasoline and diesel, were 1.39 million tons in May, compared with 1.36 million in April, today's data also showed. The country bought 3.47 million tons and exported 2.08 million.