China's trade surplus contracted sharply to $17.8 billion in August, down from $31.5 billion in July, as imports rose to a new record high, according to official data.The trade surplus is a perennial point of contention for China's key trade partners, the United States and Europe, who seek better market access to the world's second-biggest economy.China's August exports rose 24.5 percent year-on-year to $173.3 billion, the customs agency said in a statement.But imports jumped 30.2 percent to $155.5 billion in August, breaking the previously monthly record of $152.2 billion set in March."One month reduction in trade surplus does not equate to a sustained reduction in the trade surplus," Alistair Thornton, an analyst at IHS Global Insight, told AFP.
"The export growth shows that there is a huge amount of resilience and momentum still in the Chinese economy despite the fact that we've undergone a sustained period of monetary tightening."The decline in the trade surplus exceeded forecasts made by a panel of 12 economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires, who had a median expectation of $23.4 billion for August.The economists had expected imports to increase by just 21 percent, and exports by 21.6 percent.Some analysts had expected poor consumer confidence in the United States and Europe to hit China's exports, but the latest figures show outgoing shipments above forecasts, indicating the Chinese economy is weathering the downturn."The weakness we've seen in the past months in the eurozone and the US hasn't yet filtered into China's export growth," Thornton said.But he warned that "the recent weakness in the advanced economies will start to show up in the export data towards the end of the year".In the first eight months of the year, Chinese trade with the European Union was worth $372.1 billion, up 21.8 percent year on year, while in second place trade with the US rose 17.8 percent to $285.6 billion.Also from January to August, Chinese imports of iron ore increased by 10.6 percent in terms of quantity, but with the price per ton increasing by 37.4 percent.China's politically sensitive trade surplus had leapt to $31.5 billion in July from just $22.27 billion in June, adding further pressure on Beijing to allow the yuan to appreciate.Beijing's major trading partners have long complained that the yuan is deliberately undervalued to give Chinese exporters an unfair advantage.But, said Thornton, the latest contraction would be unlikely to assuage those who think the Chinese currency should be allowed to rise in value."This will not fundamentally alter US pressure on the Chinese to appreciate the RMB," he said.