China's imports of gasoline hit a ten-year high in August after the country's economic planner ordered state-owned oil firms to make up shortfalls in supply.
Imports reached 45,000 tons last month, up 7,896 percent from August last year.
Meanwhile, exports shrank to 257,000 tons, down 18.3 percent from August last year and down from 330,000 tons in July and 526,000 tons in June.
China has been a key gasoline exporter in Asia with small amounts of imports. It imported only 13.6 tons of gasoline in July.
Tian Chunrong, an analyst with the China Petrochemical Corporation (Sinopec Group), China's largest oil refiner, said the government order for a guaranteed domestic gasoline supply was the major reason for both the sharp rise in imports and the drastic drop in exports.
The National Development and Reform Commission, China's top economic planner, in early August required the China National Petroleum Corporation and Sinopec Group, the two state-owed oil giants, to increase oil refining volume and reducing exports of refined oil products to ensure the domestic supply.
Chinese motorists would see no shortage of gasoline and the two oil giants were sending signals that domestic supply could be guaranteed by increasing imports and cutting exports, said Tian.
A supply shortage hit some gas stations in July mainly due to the price hikes of crude oil in the international market.
Rising inflation risks restrained the government from hiking prices of refined oil products, which were still under state control, despite record international oil prices since late June.
Refineries had to reduce output or raise the wholesale price, both contributing to the apparent shortage in the domestic market, said Tian.
Experts predicted that China would be a temporary gasoline importer and its imports could drop when the strong demand diminished after the summer hike.
Another record month for imports is imminent in September, as Sinopec announced earlier that it planned to import 60,000 tons of gasoline at a loss of nearly 30 million yuan (US$3.99 million) to meet domestic supply.
In China, oil prices are controlled by the government, which has subsidized oil companies since 2005. Last year Sinopec received five billion yuan in subsidies.