(Adds analyst comment, context)
BEIJING, June 23 (Reuters) - China increased sugar imports in May by more than expected as refineries rushed to scoop up sweetener before Beijing slapped hefty duties on foreign sugar during the month, data showed on Friday.
The world's top sugar importer brought in 186,765 tonnes of sugar in May, up 38 percent from a year earlier, customs data showed on Friday.
Some analysts said they had expected a smaller tonnage, between 100,000 and 150,000 tonnes, as refineries were waiting to receive new import permits.
China in late May imposed hefty tariffs on out-of-quota sugar imports, making it much more expensive to bring in sugar from major producers, Thailand and Brazil, after lobbying by domestic sugar mills.
It also slashed permits for those imports to almost half of last year's allowance.
Imports were down slightly from the previous month's 190,000 tonnes, according to data released by the General Administration of Customs.
Arrivals are usually higher during the peak summer months and analysts said the total was still fairly low.
"The sugar refineries have used up their quota so far and haven't got new quota," said Zhan Xiao, an analyst at Shanghai Buyun Investment Management.
Imports in the first five months of the year rose to 1.27 million tonnes, up 32 percent from the same period in 2016, boosted by low global prices. (Reporting by Hallie Gu and Josephine Mason; Editing by Richard Pullin)