Strong imports eased fears of a slowdown in the world's number two economy, as China's trade surplus hit $13.05 billion in May.
The trade surplus -- a major bugbear for China's key trade partners, the United States and Europe -- was bigger than the $11.4 billion recorded in April but much lower than a Dow Jones Newswires forecast for $18.6 billion.
While exports growth slowed last month, rising 19.4% year-on-year to $157.16 billion, the amount was still a record high for a single month based on previous data.
In April, exports rose 29.9% to $155.7 billion while imports increased 21.8% to $144.3 billion.
Imports gathered pace, soaring 28.4% from a year earlier to $144.11 billion, customs authorities said.
Analysts said the figures should soothe concerns that the world's second largest economy is slowing sharply. "I still think overall we are seeing some moderation in growth in China but this strengthens my view that we are not seeing a hard landing," said Royal Bank of Canada senior strategist Brian Jackson.
The data showed economic woes in the United States and Europe were not having a big impact on exports while the acceleration in imports indicated higher commodity prices had not led to "demand destruction" in China, he said.
A slowdown in economic growth could see China's currency strengthen at a slower pace in the coming months, said Citigroup economist Ken Peng. China tightly controls the value of its currency despite promising last June to let it trade more freely against the dollar, since when it has appreciated more than 5%. But critics argue the yuan is undervalued by as much as 40% and gives Chinese exporters an unfair advantage.
Beijing has been pulling on a variety of levers to cool the economy, which grew 9.7% in the first quarter, as stability-obsessed leaders fret that high inflation and soaring house prices could trigger social unrest.
There are growing signs the measures are bearing fruit -- manufacturing activity expanded at the slowest pace in 10 months in May and year-on-year auto sales fell in May for the second straight month.
Analysts have played down concerns about a sharp slowdown for the Asian powerhouse due to persistent government efforts to stem a flood of credit into the economy and tame inflation, which is hovering above 5%.
"This is still just a moderation rather than a meltdown in growth so there is no need to worry about over-tightening," HSBC China economist Qu Hongbin said earlier this month. "Beijing is likely to keep tightening mainly through reserve ratio and rate hikes in the coming months."
China has already hiked interest rates and increased the amount of money banks must keep in reserve numerous times in recent months -- yet inflation has gathered pace. A raft of key economic data to be released on June 14 is expected to show inflation accelerated to 5.5% in May, higher than April's 5.3% and well above the government's annual target of 4%.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011