BEIJING—The coronavirus dealt a blow to global trade in 2020, but not in China, where exports rose last year to their highest level on record, officials said Thursday, positioning it as the only major world economy to grow during the pandemic-scarred year.
For the full year, Chinese exports rose 3.6% from a year earlier to a record $2.6 trillion, according to data from China’s General Administration of Customs.
China’s robust economic recovery also propped up demand for imports, which fell by just 1.1% in 2020, resulting in a $535.03 billion trade surplus for the year—the biggest since 2015.
Chinese exports and economic activity plunged in the early months of the year as authorities raced to contain the fast-spreading virus, shutting down swaths of the country. But by April, China’s factories were coming back online and retooling themselves to churn out medical and work-from-home computer equipment that filled shipping containers headed to Western countries then reeling from the pandemic.
Next, when Western countries began opening up their economies in the second half of the year, Chinese factories continued producing and shipping other goods abroad as demand for medical and computer equipment eased, defying months of market expectations that the exports boom would fade.