A container ship steams to sea from the foreign trade container terminal of Qingdao port in Shandong province. Image: Twitter

China’s imports surged in September, defying expectations, official data showed Tuesday, while exports rose for a fourth straight month as shops further opened up after virus lockdowns.

Imports to the world’s second-largest economy spiked 13.2% last month, smashing forecasts as companies and consumers dipped into their pockets after months of coronavirus uncertainty and geopolitical tensions.

Corporate buying of tech products before US restrictions hit was likely a key driver behind the “extremely strong imports,” said Stephen Innes, chief global markets strategist at AxiCorp.

Customs data released Tuesday showed the first import bounce since June.

Meanwhile, imports of iron ore and electronic integrated circuits hit record high values as companies stock up and infrastructure investments show strength, said Tommy Xie, head of Greater China research at OCBC Bank.

Exports rose 9.9% on-year, the Customs Administration said, initially spurred by worldwide demand for Made-In-China personal protective equipment such as face masks and gowns, but now widening to household appliances and plastics.

Customs spokesman Li Kuiwen told reporters that foreign trade has been “better than expected,” although the spread of Covid-19 and the ensuing economic carnage makes the global landscape “increasingly grim and complicated.”

Fresh waves of infections in key markets – including the US and Europe – could batter external demand again.

China’s trade surplus with the US – the core gripe in Washington in their bruising trade war – rose 18.8% to US$30.75 billion, which was down from the $34.2 billion seen in August.

Imports of agricultural commodities picked up, with pork shipments rising 82.6% on-year over the first nine months, while grains and soybeans also saw overall increases, according to the official data.

Financial intelligence firm Moody’s Analytics cautioned this week that the recovery in overseas demand “has been uneven and aided by the notable increase in demand for medical, electrical and high-tech products.”