Chinese exports grew more than expected in December, customs data showed on Thursday, as coronavirus disruptions around the world fuelled demand for Chinese goods even as a stronger yuan made shipments more expensive for overseas buyers.
Chinese firms also exported nearly 100 billion-yuan worth of other personal protective equipment, Li said.
Exports surged 18.1% in December over a year earlier to $281.9 billion.
Freya Beamish, chief Asia economist, said: "We reckon the adjusted surplus remains in its downward trend, falling to around $41bn in December from November's $51bn".
While most of the world has been battling the coronavirus in 2020, idling blast furnaces and announcing job cuts, China expected full-year steel output of one billion tonnes following a rapid recovery from the pandemic. "But at the same time, we should also see that there are many uncertainties in the epidemic situation and the external environment".
Capacity utilisation rates at 163 mills across China have been hovering at above year-ago levels since the second half of 2020 to meet increasing demand for steel products used in infrastructure and the manufacturing sector.
The figure is a 14.9 percent jump from 2017's surplus of $275.8 billion - which was already a sensitive political issue due to Trump's claims that China held unfair practices and killed USA jobs.
"We think trade will remain resilient in the near-term but will soften later this year", said Julian Evans-Pritchard, senior China economist at Capital Economics, in a research note.
"After a surprisingly strong exports performance in 2020 (+3.6%) even in the face of United States tariffs, the outlook remains positive". Imports from the US, Japan, South Korea, ASEAN, and European Union increased 47.7%, 12.3%, 6.9%, 21.7%, and 15.5% YoY.
"Imports in the new year are expected to hit a new record high", he added, declining to be named as he was not authorized to speak to the media. The onshore yuan jumped 6.7% in 2020 - its first annual rise in three years. "We expect Beijing to normalize its policy stance in 2021, although this normalization should be moderate and gradual".