China's exports surged in February due to seasonal distortions and robust global demand, customs data showed on Thursday.
Exports of goods increased by 36.2 percent in February year on year to 1.11 trillion yuan (176 billion U.S. dollars), compared with a rise of 6 percent in January, according to the General Administration of Customs.
Imports fell 0.2 percent to 888.16 billion yuan in February. That left the monthly trade surplus at 224.88 billion yuan, a reversal from a trade deficit of 72.99 billion yuan in the same period a year ago.
February's exports figure was a surprise given that holiday effects were expected to limit the pace of increase, said Bloomberg economist Tom Orlik.
A one-week holiday for Lunar New Year, which fell in February this year but straddled January and February last year, was expected to hit export growth, he added.
It is possible that there was a rush to ship goods ahead of the break, which could, together with a low base effect, account for the outsize gain, he said.
In the first two months, exports rose 18 percent while imports were up by 15.2 percent. The trade surplus expanded 37.2 percent to 362.2 billion yuan, customs figures showed.
"That points to very robust external demand, though it is not a pace that will be even close to sustained. We expect a payback in slower growth in March," he said.
February's reading came as the U.S. government showed increasing protectionism. U.S. President Trump has said that trade deficit reduction is one of the priorities for the administration's trade policy.
Last week, Trump announced a plan to impose a 25-percent tariff on imported steel and a 10-percent tariff on aluminum to protect domestic industries.
The protectionist measures have sparked widespread opposition from U.S. domestic business groups and trade partners, who argue that the actions would hurt both the U.S. and global economies and undermine the global trade system.
In a government work report delivered to the first session of the 13th National People's Congress (NPC), Premier Li Keqiang said that China promised to open its doors wider to foreign investors and further liberalize and facilitate trade and investment.
Warning that protectionism is "mounting," the premier also voiced China's support for promoting economic globalization and protecting free trade.
"China calls for trade disputes to be settled through discussion as equals, opposes trade protectionism, and will resolutely safeguard its lawful rights," he said, noting that the country is ready to work with all parties to advance multilateral trade negotiations.
China will also actively expand imports this year as it aims to further open up its market, said Li. The country will host the first China International Import Expo this year and lower import tariffs on products, including automobiles and some everyday consumer goods.