China's trade growth cooled last month in a possible sign of weaker global and domestic demand, but last year's total exports rose 7.9 percent year-on-year, while imports were up 15.9 percent.
China's exports to North Korea rose 8.3% in 2017 from a year earlier, at $3.34 billion, official data showed Friday.
China can no longer rely on exports to grow its economy as it has done over the past 30 years, according to Zhang, because the model is now unsustainable and would put too much strain on ties with the rest of the world.
Chinese trade has been unexpectedly strong in the face of forecasts that economic growth will cool as Beijing tightens controls on credit to slow a rise in debt.
China's imports from North Korea plunged in December to their lowest level in dollar terms since at least the start of 2014, with trade curbed by United Nations sanctions aimed at persuading Pyongyang to abandon its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.
"It will be hard for China's foreign trade growth to remain in the double digits this year, Huang Songping, a spokesman for the General Administration of Customs, said following the release of the report". However, imports surged 18.7% over the same period, bringing the trade surplus down to 2.87 trillion yuan ($442.3 billion).
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Chinese imports grew more slowly than exports for the first time since mid-2016, "reflecting the diverging prospects for growth in China and the rest of the world", Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics Ltd said in a report. Iron ore imports for the year hit a record high of 1.075 billion tonnes.
Trade growth momentum is waning as both exports and imports fell in December.
Compared to 2016, it said trade between the two nations fell by 10.5% past year.
As a result, the trade surplus rose to $54.69 billion in December, while it was forecast to fall to $37.4 billion. "A major uncertainty is potential China-US trade frictions". For comparison, the previous record was a surplus of $260.8 billion in 2015.
U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly signaled tougher action on what he calls unfair practices that have lead to a massive trade deficit with China. The investigation, based on the rarely-used Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, could be a precursor to retaliatory US policies such as hefty tariffs on Chinese imports.