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By Chen Aizhu
BEIJING, April 19 (Reuters) - China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) will install its domestic fuel sales chief to head the state-owned oil giant's trading arm, succeeding Wang Lihua who is retiring after two decades guiding one of the world's top oil merchants, sources said.
Tian Jinghui, a vice president at PetroChina, CNPC's listed subsidiary, and a veteran of its fuel marketing business, will be appointed chairman of CNPC's trading unit China National United Oil Corp, or Chinaoil, three sources briefed on the matter said. This is the first major management reshuffle in Chinaoil's 24-year history.
It is one of the most influential roles in the fiercely competitive global oil trading business, with a portfolio that spans a nearly 3,000-strong workforce, trading teams in oil hubs from Singapore to London to Houston, stakes in refineries in Asia and Europe and storage in the Caribbean.
A PetroChina press official confirmed Wang's retirement but declined to comment on her replacement. The sources did not want to be named as the reshuffle has not been made public.
An internal announcement was issued last week, the sources said. It is not clear when the official handover will take place.
One of the sources briefed on the matter said Tian will keep his current role as PetroChina marketing head after taking up the Chinaoil position.
"If Tian is to continue his double-hat top role at the domestic fuel sales, he will then have a much larger base of resources to work on," said another of the sources, a former senior Chinaoil trader.
The choice of her successor marks a significant shift for Chinaoil. Tian, who the sources say is in his mid-50s and has worked his way up through PetroChina for as long as Wang ran Chinaoil, is joining a close-knit business that has seen its top team of trading executives little changed since its set-up in 1993.
He has big shoes to fill as Wang, 60, who is known by staff and peers as Madame Wang, steps down as the country's single longest-serving top oil trading executive.
She is credited with building Chinaoil into one of the world's most prominent oil trading companies.
In 2015, Chinaoil traded about 3 million barrels per day of crude oil and refined fuels, more than Swiss rival Trafigura , and about half that of Vitol, the world's largest oil trader.
"She has always had the dream of building a first-class oil trader," said the former senior Chinaoil trader.
"We were constantly asked to draw comparisons with international oil majors like BP and Shell and leading western trading houses like Vitol and Glencore, for turnover and profit," said a third source, also a former Chinaoil trader.
Wang joined Chinaoil as a vice president in 1995. She was a planning official at CNPC before that and an early advocate of breaking up China's oil trading monopoly held by Sinochem. That eventually led to the creation of Chinaoil and Unipec, the trading arm of China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., known as Sinopec.
Started as a marketer of crude oil to Japan, Chinaoil expanded into the import business by bringing the first foreign oil cargo to China of Vietnamese crude in 1996.
Wang was the mastermind behind Chinaoil buying stakes in Japan's Osaka refinery, Singapore Petroleum Co and INEOS' plants in Scotland and France.
"She's grown Chinaoil into a hybrid of state oil trader with the asset spread of a global major and trading strategy of a western trading house," said the first former Chinaoil trader.
Additional reporting by Florence Tan in SINGAPORE; Editing by Josephine Mason and Christian Schmollinger