BEIJING -- Chinese investment overseas in January and February soared 147% year-on-year to $18.39 billion, official data showed Tuesday -- more than foreign direct investment into the country itself.

Incoming FDI, which excludes financial sectors, stood at $17.48 billion over the period, the commerce ministry said, down 1.35% year-on-year.

Beijing is keen to promote overseas investment in part of its efforts to reform China's growth model and acquire significant foreign assets in sectors such as energy, mining and high-tech industries, analysts said.

"It should be a trend in the long run -- it is highly likely that overseas direct investment will exceed foreign direct investment in the next few years," Ren Xianfang, a Beijing-based analyst with research firm IHS Global Insight, said.

"It is a national strategy to transfer China to a big investor from a big exporter."

Chinese direct investment overseas surged almost 30% last year from 2011 as firms in the world's second-largest economy increasingly look to expand abroad.

The biggest rise in Chinese investment in a major market over January and February was in Australia, where it surged 282%, the ministry said.

It was followed by Hong Kong, up 156%, and the U.S. with a 146% increase, while in south-east Asia it went up 114% and in the EU 81.9%.

However, in Japan, with whom Beijing has been involved in a territorial row, investment was down 31%. Overseas FDI to Russia also slipped 46%.

At the same time China's manufacturing competitiveness faces rising costs, while investor confidence is battered by weakness in the global economy.

Nonetheless incoming FDI in rose 6.3% to $8.21 billion in February, the first year-on-year increase in nine months, the commerce ministry said.

EU investment into China increased "quite rapidly" in the first two months of the year, the ministry said in a statement, rising 34% to $1.214 billion.

But FDI fell from the U.S. and Asia, with Japanese investment down 6.7% over the period to $1.269 billion.

China's economy grew at its slowest pace in 13 years in 2012, expanding 7.8% from the year before.

But it has been showing renewed vigor, with GDP growth accelerating in the final three months of 2012 to 7.9%, snapping seven straight quarters of weakening expansion.

Month-to-month comparisons at the start of the year in China can be heavily affected by seasonal factors as China's annual Lunar New Year holiday can fall in either January or February. China takes a week off during the break, the country's biggest, as hundreds of millions of people travel back to their hometowns for celebrations.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013