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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 September, 2004, 05:42 GMT 06:42 UK
China reports soaring oil imports
Chinese worker in oil refinery
China has been a net importer of crude oil since 1996
China's oil imports for the first eight months of 2004 rose by nearly 40% compared with the same period last year, according to state media reports.

China imported a total of 79.9 million tonnes of oil between January and August, a 39.9% increase on the year, the Xinhua news agency reported.

The figure reflects a slowdown in domestic oil production at a time of rapid economic expansion.

Total oil imports for 2004 are set to reach a record 110 million tonnes.

Thirst for oil

That would mark a 20% increase over last year's total of 91 million tonnes, itself up by 31% on the total for 2002.

China recently overtook Japan to become the world's second biggest oil consumer after the US, propelled up the rankings by a long-running economic boom.

Surging Chinese demand is one of the main factors underlying this year's 30% jump in crude oil prices, which some economists believe could dent global growth in the months ahead.

Analysts believe that China's share of total world oil consumption could double to 14% over the next decade.

The Chinese authorities have pledged to promote sustainable energy use as part of a wider plan to dampen potentially inflationary economic growth.

Separate figures out on Tuesday showed that Chinese retail sales rose by 13.1% on the year in August, in a sign that consumer demand is still growing strongly.

The figure for August was down slightly from 13.2% the previous month.

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