Illustration: iStock

Patience might be a virtue, but not one that President Donald Trump is particularly keen on. Indeed, the latest soundbites from Beijing will probably send the White House into fits of exasperation after China’s  trade figures were announced.

Data released by the General Administration of Customs showed that the surplus with the US jumped 19.4% to US$58 billion between January and March compared to the same period last year.

Exports increased by 14.8% while imports edged higher at 8.9%, prompting a plea from the customs administration spokesman, Huang Songping, for Washington to be “patient.”

Still, last month’s surplus with the US fell to $15.4 billion from February’s $21 billion, while it was also down from $17.7 billion during the same period in 2017.

“We don’t strive for a favorable balance of trade [for China], the current state of trade affairs are shaped by the market,” Huang told a media briefing in Beijing on Friday.  “We hope that the US will listen patiently to rational and pragmatic voices on the trade balance issue.”

His comments came as tensions between the two economic superpowers simmer.

Concerns of a trade war have been rumbling since last month after Trump threatened a series of tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese goods, sparking tit-for-tat warnings from Beijing.

Graphic: Bloomberg

The stand-off has intensified over the massive trade deficit with China, which was a record $375.2 billion in 2017. Other issues have involved intellectual property rights infringements.

“The sharp decline in March export growth after very solid performance in January and February suggests some exporters may have front-loaded exports [early] this year due to concern over the possibility of a Sino-US trade war after the US hiked tariffs on global imports on solar panels and washing machines,” Lisheng Wang, an economist at the financial firm Nomura in Hong Kong, told Reuters.

“We believe export growth will slow due to yuan appreciation and rising trade tensions … China’s imports could be more resilient than exports in our view as China has pledged to increase imports,” Wang added.

Earlier this week at the Boao Forum on Hainan Island in southern China, President Xi Jinping promised to cut tariffs in certain sectors and further open up the financial and insurance industries.

His keynote address at what is known as Asia’s Davos brought a warm response from Trump, but these latest trade figures are likely to trigger a different reaction.

“We hope both China and the US can solve the disputes with wisdom and respect, in a constructive way,” Spokesman Huang said. “We hope trade relations can return to the track of healthy and stable development.”

– with reporting from AFP and Reuters

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