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China: cranking up the export machine

Thomas MuchaGlobalPost.com

If you're obsessed with the Chinese economy — and let's face it, if you're reading this blog post then you've got more than a passing interest in the topic — then Sunday was a particularly interesting day.

That's because the Chinese government announced that exports surged 15.3 percent in May from a year ago.

That's double what economists were expecting.

It's also the biggest month ever for Chinese exports.

The announcement comes as China's domestic economy continues to slow. The export boom could help preserve the jobs of millions of workers who toil in Chinese factories. 

Think of it as China using its secret weapon: factories that have been well-tooled to outcompete others around the world in terms of labor productivity and efficiency, even as Europe tanks and the US economy shows new signs of weakness.

The New York Times has a smart overview today of the situation, which highlights long-term investments in productivity measures and short-term currency movements as the catalyst for the export surge.

The US has been the main market for Chinese stuff. Exports to America rose 23 percent from a year ago.

They were up a paltry 3.2 percent to debt-ridden Europe.

As the Times reporter Keith Bradsher points out, the export surge is likely to play a role in the race for the White House:

"(But) resurgent Chinese exports also have the potential to become a political issue in the American elections in November. Mitt Romney, who has clinched the Republican nomination for president, has already promised in campaign ads to stand up to China more vigorously on currency issues. President Obama has set up an interagency group to investigate trade law violations, particularly by China."

For more on the role of China, as well as the other key economic factors related to the 2012 election, see my weekend column.