TEHRAN (Dispatches) - The Chinese oil tanker PACIFIC BRAVO has began traveling eastward, having loaded approximately 2 million barrels of Iranian oil from the Soroosh and Kharg terminals in the Persian Gulf over the past few days, according to analysis provided by TankerTrackers.com.
PACIFIC BRAVO is currently reporting its destination as Indonesia, but the tanker was recently acquired by Bank of Kunlun, a financial institution that is owned by the Chinese state oil company CNPC. TankerTrackers.com believes China is the ultimate destination for the oil on board.
PACIFIC BRAVO is the first major tanker to load Iranian crude after the Trump administration revoked waivers permitting the purchases by eight of Iran’s oil customers. The revocation of the waivers, which sent shockwaves through the global oil market, was a major escalation of Trump’s "maximum pressure” campaign on Iran.
Bank of Kunlun has long been the financial institution at heart of China-Iran bilateral trade—a role for which the company was sanctioned during the Obama administration.
China-Iran trade slowed after the reimposition of U.S. secondary sanctions in November, suggesting the Chinese government had chosen to subordinate its economic relations with Iran to the much more important issue of its ongoing trade negotiations with the United States. But these negotiations have since broken down. This week, President Trump announced plans to impose tariffs on a further $300 billion in Chinese imports in addition to punitive measures against Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, which has been targeted in part for its alleged violations of Iran sanctions.
These announcements stoked anger in China, which has vowed to fight back. Last week, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters that China "resolutely opposes” unilateral sanctions on Iran.
China’s apparent decision to use state-enterprises to purchase at least some Iranian oil represents a direct and significant challenge to U.S. sanctions. For Iran, China’s decision to continue to purchase at least some Iranian oil could prove a vital lifeline as it struggles to withstand the Trump administration’s "maximum pressure” sanctions campaign.