In his trade war with China, Donald Trump has secret allies

Containers are seen at the Yangshan Deep Water Port in Shanghai China

Customs data showed that Chinese exports rose 11.3 percent in 2018 to $478.4 billion, while imports from the U.S. only rose by 0.7 percent.

That left the country with a trade surplus of $57.06 billion for the month, the General Administration of Customs said, compared with analysts' expectations for a surplus of $51.53 billion, up from $44.71 billion in November.

China's politically-sensitive surplus with the United States widened by 17.2 per cent to US$323.32 billion past year, the highest on record going back to 2006, according to Reuters calculations based on customs data.

However, in a sign that the White House's measures are having an impact, China's exports to the United States sank last month.

However, customs' data for December also showed that exports to the USA dropped 3.5 percent compared with December of the previous year, possibly due to USA tariffs on an array of Chinese goods.

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China's exports to the world fell 4.4% in December from a year earlier, while imports dropped 7.6%, reflecting sluggish demand at home and overseas. Absent the tariffs, it is likely the surplus would have been even higher.

The country's commerce minister told state media on Friday that China will work to straighten out trade frictions with the USA this year. For all of 2018, soybean, the second largest imports from the USA, fell for the first time since 2011.

"Overall economic growth slowed further in the fourth quarter and remains under pressure from weaker exports, slow credit growth and cooling real estate activity".

"China effectively tackled changes of the external environment previous year, and the foreign trade maintained stable and positive growth, reaching a historic high in import and export volume", the customs spokesperson, Li Kuiwen, said on Monday.

A few analysts believe interest rate cuts are a possibility, but most expect Beijing will refrain from massive stimulus measures like those deployed in the past, due to worries that it could add to a mountain of debt andweaken the yuan.

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