A new EIA report said the Chinese perfromance was pushed by many factors including a concerted infrastructure expansion.
The EIA report comes just as state oiler the China National Offshore Oil Corporation reported its first serious increase in investment in four years, with the lion's share of money going to develop a global portfolio.
The EIA thinks that "as much 1.4 million barrels a day of new refinery capacity is planned to open in China by the end of 2019" and noted that last year the giant imported 8.4 million barrels of crude a day compared with the US's 7.9MMbopd
"New refinery capacity and strategic inventory stockpiling combined with declining domestic oil production were the major factors contributing to the recent increase in China's crude oil imports," it said.
American crude imports have fallen since 2004 when EIA data shows they were at around 10MMbopd against China's 2MMbopd, a strong sign of just how fast the nation has risen.
China's reliance on OPEC has dropped as imports fell from 67% in 2012 to just 56% last year as Russia and Brazil increased their share of the Chinese market, with Russia's share rising 5% to 14% as it took the lead over Saudi Arabia, and Brazil's imports to China rising from 2% to 5%.
Consumption grew 400,000bopd (3%) to 13.2MMbopd last year, and as China has built up its strategic reserves its crude oil imports have increased faster than its domestic consumption.
Reforms in the refinery sector and granting crude oil import licenses to intendent refineries in the northeast of the country have also helped increased imports.
"China's crude oil imports have also increased because of higher refinery runs and expanding refinery capacity," the report said, noting that refinery runs increased by some 500,000bopd last year to a total of 11.4MMbopd, in part driven by two refinery expansions in the second quarter of last year, with CNOOC's Huizhou refinery increasing its capacity by 200,000bopd.
The China-Russia the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline's expansion in January doubled its capacity to 600,000bopd, paving the way for more Russian oil to easily enter the Chinese market.
"Given China's expected decline in domestic crude oil production, imports will likely continue to increase over at least the next two years," the EIA said.