(Bloomberg) -- Oil traders and executives seeking any tidbit of information on the outlook for China’s Covid Zero policy and its potential easing were left with little clarity as Asia’s biggest oil gathering wrapped up this week.

China’s reopening was a key topic of conversation at the Asia Pacific Petroleum Conference in Singapore, but a handful of delegates visiting from the mainland weren’t providing much insight during public sessions. They were also largely absent from late-night cocktail parties, favoring their own internal events and starving traders of the opportunity for chats behind-the-scenes.

Covid Zero has been a key policy for President Xi Jinping and officials could be wary of speaking on the strategy, or attending events outside of China for fear of contracting the virus, ahead of a leadership summit next month. The policy relies on lockdowns and mass testing to stamp out infections, weighing on the nation’s economy and adding to bearish headwinds for oil prices.

How soon China’s demand returns fully to global markets is the most important factor that will determine whether oil prices resume gains, participants said on the sidelines of the conference. Some major Chinese refiners did flag a near-term improvement in the economic outlook and predicted the Covid Zero policy would be gradually eased once that decision is made. 

“I don’t think anyone really knows outside of Beijing when they’re going to lift Zero Covid and what happens there,” Saad Rahim, the chief economist of one of the world’s top commodity traders Trafigura Group, said in an interview.

The APPEC 2022 event returned to an in-person format for the first time since the pandemic erupted. It heralded a return of lavish parties at posh downtown hotels for the state oil companies of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, although the Beijing-based senior executives of PetroChina Co. chose a more low-key affair -- hosting an internal awards dinner in Singapore for the company’s traders.

The under-investment in the energy sector, the outlook for potential output cuts from OPEC+ to stem the slide in oil prices, and the prospect of tight supply in Europe during winter were other key topics discussed at the event.

“The only way to rebalance the economy is to cut demand,” said Giovanni Serio, head of research at Vitol Group, the world’s largest independent oil trader. “The challenge for every government and every market is how to curtail demand without pushing the market into a recession.”

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