China’s trade with Iran has reached a stunning new low. Data released Thursday by the Chinese customs administration show that declared imports of Iranian oil in March amounted to just $115 million, down 89%, year on year. The last time the value of Iran’s declared monthly oil exports to China were this low was 20 years ago. The demand for Iranian oil re-exported via Malaysia has fallen precipitously, too.
This is not merely a blip. For more than a year now, China has been downgrading its trading relationship with Iran, as reflected both in the shrinking of bilateral trade as well as changes in policy at Bank of Kunlun, the financial institution at the heart of China-Iran trade. As with all developing economies, Iran’s prospects for economic growth depend on a functional trade relationship with China, so the downward trend is highly alarming for Tehran.