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China’s Exports Surge as Trade Tensions Near Boiling Point

China’s exports rose in May at the quickest pace in more than a year, the government said on Friday, as a flood of appliances, cars and electronics poured out of factories and the prospect of a global backlash grew.

The value of China’s exports climbed 7.6 percent compared with May 2023, even as the prices of many manufactured goods coming out of China are falling.

China is rapidly building new factories and expanding existing ones as part of a national strategy. But spending is weak by Chinese households, because of a long and increasingly steep slide in prices for their apartments.

Much of the extra factory production is being exported. With fewer Chinese families buying new apartments, fewer household appliances are sold domestically, for example. The government said that the value of exports of appliances climbed 18.3 percent in May compared with the same month a year earlier. And because demand is so weak in China, appliance prices have tumbled. The actual number of appliances exported last month rose 27.8 percent.

China’s trade surplus, the difference between what it earns selling goods to the world and what it spends on imports, expanded in May to $82.6 billion. That was up 25.6 percent from a year earlier. It was the largest ever for May and one of the highest months ever except during the pandemic, when China exported huge quantities of medical gear, exercise equipment and other manufactured goods.

China’s trade surplus has tended to be fairly low in May and much higher later in the year, when its exporters supply goods for the Christmas season.