SINGAPORE - China's monthly imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) hit a record high of over 9 million tonnes in December, shiptracking data from Refinitiv Eikon showed on Thursday, overtaking Japan as the world's top importer for a second straight month.

The country, whose gas demand was one of the earliest hit from the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year, is set to import about 9.05 million tonnes of LNG in December, a jump of about 40% from November, Refinitiv data showed.

Official customs data from China will not be available until next month.

The world's second-highest LNG importer's previous monthly record high was in November at about 6.61 million tonnes, according to China's General Administration of Customs.

China has been importing LNG at record rates due to a cold spell hitting large parts of the country, lifting demand for the winter heating fuel.

Earlier this week, China's central economic planner, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) urged companies to step up imports of natural gas and thermal coal as temperatures are set to fall sharply.

Japan, which has maintained its annual lead as LNG importer this year, is also set to import a record monthly volume of 8.1 million tonnes in December, up from November's just over 6 million tonnes, Refinitiv Eikon data showed. 

The rise in imports for both countries has led to an overall record high monthly import volume into the Japan-Korea-Taiwan-China region to about 23 million tonnes, the data showed. This in turn is leading to spot LNG prices rising to multi-year highs. 

(Reporting by Jessica Jaganathan, additional reporting by Chen Aizhu; Editing by Kim Coghill and Uttaresh.V) ((; +65 6870 3822; Reuters Messaging:; Twitter: