China’s bloated trade surplus with the rest of the world shrank last month, but not with the United States. President Donald Trump has mounted a personal crusade to bring the US deficit down with the world’s second-largest economy.
In May, the figure swelled to US$24.6 billion, which was almost all of China’s total surplus of $24.9 billion. Between January and May, it hit $104.8 billion, while last year it was a record $375.2 billion.
Despite three rounds of trade talks, tension between Washington and Beijing has increased.
Tit-for-tariffs on an array of products worth at least $100 billion have been rolled out by the US and China with the White House announcing it was ready to raise the ante in this high-risk game of diplomatic poker by targeting another $100 billion of imported goods.
The strength of China exports to the US might even have been fueled by the escalating trade dispute with Washington.
“The particularly strong May figures are due to uncertainties from the trade negotiations,” Iris Pang, an economist at the financial group ING in Hong Kong, told Bloomberg news agency.
“Export risks are mounting, so the exporters expedited importing components for re-export,” she added.
Overall, exports jumped 12.6% in May, which was slightly slower than in April, China’s General Administration of Customs reported on Friday. Shipments to the US were up 11.6%, the highest level since February.
On the flip side, global imports increased 26% last month compared with a 21.5% in April.
This was fueled by demand for computer chips, or semiconductors, as well as commodities, including agricultural goods, crude oil, copper ore and liquified natural gas.
Still, the semiconductor figures are interesting, particularly in the light of China’s disputes with the US and the European Union about technology and “intellectual property” violations.
“Even if a trade war is avoided, Chinese trade growth is still likely to edge down over the coming year as the global economy loses momentum and headwinds to domestic demand from slower credit growth intensify,” Julian Evans-Pritchard, a senior China economist at Capital Economics, told Reuters.