Gold consumption in China exceeded 1,151 metric tons in 2018, up 5.73 percent year-on-year, making the country the largest gold consumer worldwide for the sixth consecutive year, according to industry data.
Gold consumption via the jewelry sector reached 736.29 tons in the past year, up 5.71 percent year-on-year, while gold bar consumption reached 285.20 tons, up 3.19 percent compared with the same period in the previous year, according to the China Gold Association.
Use of gold for industrial purposes rose the most, around 17.48 percent year-on-year, to 105.94 tons on the back of strong demand from the industrial sector, it said.
Insiders said the country's gold consumption was mainly pushed up by jewelry demand in 2018, after demand for jewelry bottomed out in 2016.
"We expect gold consumption to continue increasing in 2019 as the industry moves to produce more retail products to meet customer needs," said Zhu Yi, senior analyst of metals and mining at Bloomberg Intelligence.
"Output of gold is likely to continue to drop, as China is strictly implementing environmental regulations, which means that gold mines that fail to meet those requirements will be suspended or driven out of the market."
According to the association, domestic gold production last year reached 401.119 tons, ranking the first worldwide for 12 consecutive years. Output saw a reduction of 25.023 tons compared with 2017, a year-on-year decrease of 5.87 percent.
The downward trend of gold output is a result of the industrial structure optimization of the sector in response to the country's environmental measures. Some mines located in nature reserves have been suspended, while some with outdated technical equipment have also been suspended or had their output reduced in recent years, said the association.
Many gold mines in Shaanxi province and the Inner Mongolia autonomous region have seen their output fall in recent years, it said.
Imports of gold raw materials rose 23.47 percent year-on-year to 112.783 tons last year, which Zhu said is part of the efforts of Chinese gold companies, including Zijin Mining Group Co Ltd and China National Gold Group Co Ltd, to expand their global layout in recent years.
"China's gold producers have been aggressively seeking resources overseas to ensure stable supplies," she said. "As the mines purchased overseas continue to commission and ramp up, this figure may keep going up this year."
Executives at Zijin Mining Group Co Ltd, China's largest gold producer, said earlier it would seek to expand through acquisitions in countries rich in resources such as large mines of gold and copper, as its overseas projects would be the mainstay of the company's development to seek more opportunities to compete in the global market.
Zijin has been investing in mineral-rich assets through mergers and acquisitions in Canada, Russia, Vietnam, Peru and some other countries.
Despite the fact that China is rich in gold resources, it has relatively low-grade ore and is not easily accessible, Song Xin, head of the association, said. With advanced gold mining and refining technologies, China can play a complementary role in many markets abroad.