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BEIJING, March 22 (Reuters) - The head of crude oil trading at Chinese state energy giant PetroChina has resigned after 20 years with the company, a rare departure from a state-owned enterprise known for retaining talent in the midst of rapid expansion.
Li Chuang, 42, head of the crude oil department at PetroChina's trading vehicle Chinaoil, resigned in February, having spent the last two years leading a global team of nearly 50 crude oil traders and marketers.
Chinaoil has chosen as Li's replacement Zhang Peng, a deputy general manager in the same department at Chinaoil who is experienced in derivatives and risk management, said two senior trading sources based in Beijing.
Li declined to give a reason for his resignation. The two sources said he is on gardening leave for three months before making his next move.
PetroChina did not respond to a request for comment.
Chinaoil in 2015 traded a record 151 million tonnes, or roughly 3 million barrels per day of crude oil and refined fuel, versus 22 million tonnes in 2001, posting yearly average growth of 15 percent over that time span, according to its website.
Its volume turnover in 2015 was slightly more than that of Swiss trader Trafigura for the same year and about half that of Vitol, the world's largest oil dealer.
Chinaoil has since the mid-1990s grown a group of fresh university graduates into seasoned traders and managed to keep most of the top performers.
They include Zhao Yong, the former head of crude trading who is now president of Chinaoil; Zheng Jun, a vice president and another former head of crude trading; and Zhang Tong, another vice president and formerly head of the products team.
Li said his departure would be seen as more normal from global oil majors such as BP or Shell, adding that Chinaoil has been the most successful in retaining talent compared with other Chinese state traders.
Since Beijing began freeing up its oil import and export markets in late 2015, China's independent refineries, global majors and international commodity houses have hired away dozens of traders from Chinese state firms such as Sinochem and CNOOC, seeking staff with the knowledge and skills to profit from the newly liberated sector. Chinaoil has suffered the least number of departures.
Apart from supplying crude and trading refined fuel for parent PetroChina's refineries in China, Chinaoil owns refinery stakes in Japan, Singapore, Scotland and France.
It is one of the few Asia-based trading companies that actively moves crude from Europe, the United States and Canada back to the region.
In one highlight of Li's tenure over the last two years, Chinaoil emerged in late 2015 as an aggressive buyer in Asia's spot oil market, facing off with rival Unipec, trading arm of top refiner Sinopec, in a battle for influence over the region's crude benchmark. (Reporting by Chen Aizhu in BEIJING, with additional reporting by Florence Tan in SINGAPORE; Editing by Tom Hogue)