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Petrochina's flag flutters next to Chinese national flag at its gas station in Beijing August 29, 2013. Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Chinese crude oil imports surpassed those of the United States for the first time in April, making the Asian nation the world’s top importer of crude oil. According to a report by the Financial Times, the world’s second-largest economy purchased 7.4 million barrels of crude oil a day in April, topping U.S. imports of 7.2 million barrels a day.

“Being the world's biggest crude importer should give China more buying power. China's engagement in the Middle East will continue to change, and it will no longer be the minority player,” Philip Andrews-Speed, head of energy security research at the National University of Singapore, told Reuters.

The increased imports were in direct contrast with Chinese crude oil exports, which reportedly fell by 41 percent in April, possibly ending speculation that the country was running out of storage space. The Chinese government rarely releases data about its oil reserves.

The jump in oil imports, which occurred despite a slowdown in Chinese economy, might be partly due to higher shipments from Iran. The Middle Eastern nation’s oil exports rose last month amid signs that international sanctions on it could be lifted following the finalization of a framework nuclear agreement with the P5+1 nations earlier in April.

“Iran may be offering more discounts on its oil as part of an effort to increase ties with Chinese oil companies,” Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at Energy Aspects, an energy market consultancy firm, told the Financial Times.

In addition, a 60 percent drop in global oil prices between June 2014 and January 2015 has also helped China increase its stockpiled oil. As these low prices continue, China’s demand is expected to rise further.

“They will definitely continue to buy more crude to fill up new storage capacity, both strategic and commercial,” Seng Yick Tee, director of SIA Energy in Beijing, told Reuters.