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China became the world’s largest LNG importer in 2021

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Hydrocarbon Engineering,

China’s imports of LNG in 2021 were the world’s largest, according to the EIA's analysis based on data from Global Trade Tracker and China’s Administration of Customs.

Prior to 2021, Japan had been the world’s largest LNG importer for 51 years, according to data from Cedigaz. In 2021, China’s LNG imports averaged 10.5 billion ft3/d, a 1.7 billion ft3/d (19%) increase over 2020 and 0.8 billion ft3/d more than Japan’s LNG imports. LNG imports in Japan were flat y/y, averaging 9.7 billion ft3/d in 2020 and 2021, according to data from Japan’s Ministry of Finance.

Since China began importing LNG in 2006, China’s LNG imports have grown steadily every year, except in 2015. Growth in China’s LNG imports has been supported by the rapid expansion of LNG import capacity, which has reached an estimated 13.9 billion ft3/d in 2021. By the end of 2022, China’s regasification capacity is expected to expand by an additional 2.8 billion ft3/d, for a total of 16.7 billion ft3/d, according to data by S&P Global Platts.

China’s natural gas imports, both by pipeline and as LNG, accounted for nearly half (46%) of China’s total natural gas supply (35.5 billion ft3/d) in 2021, an increase from 15% in 2010. In 2021, natural gas imports by pipeline provided 16% (5.7 billion ft3/d) of total supply, while LNG imports accounted for 30% (10.5 billion ft3/d). In 2021:

  • China imported natural gas by pipeline from five countries: Turkmenistan (3.2 billion ft3/d), Russia (1.0 billion ft3/d), Kazakhstan (0.6 billion ft3/d), Uzbekistan (0.5 billion ft3/d), and Myanmar (0.4 billion ft3/d).
  • China imported LNG from 25 countries. The six largest suppliers—Australia, the US, Qatar, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Russia—provided 8.9 billion ft3/d, or 85% of total LNG imports.
  • The remaining 15% of LNG was imported from six countries in Africa (0.6 billion ft3/d, or 6% of total LNG imports), three countries in the Middle East (0.4 billion ft3/d, or 4%) and 10 other countries from the rest of the world (0.6 billion ft3/d, or 5%).

Rapid growth in China’s natural gas production and imports has been driven primarily by government policies promoting the switch from coal to natural gas in an effort to reduce air pollution and meet emissions targets. In 2021, China’s domestic production reached 19.3 billion ft3/d, accounting for 54% of the country’s total natural gas supply, while pipeline and LNG imports combined were at 16.2 billion ft3/d (46%). In March 2022, the Chinese government released its 14th Five-Year Plan (2021 – 2025), which set domestic natural gas production target at 22.3 billion ft3/d by 2025, an increase of 3.0 billion ft3/d compared with 2021.

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