Chinese coal imports rose in November from the month before on firm demand during the winter heating season, even as Beijing encourages a shift to cleaner fuels in its battle against pollution.
Figures posted on the customs department website show exports expanded 12.3 percent to $217.4 billion in November over a year earlier. That puts the country on track to top last year's import record of 1.02 billion tonnes.
"Coal traders are seeking cheaper fuel from overseas markets as miners in China have been ordered to cut capacity to tackle environmental and safety inspections", said Zhang Min, analyst at Sublime Info.
Iron ore imports also lifted, jumping to 94.54 million tonnes from 79.49 million tonnes in October. Year-to-date exports fell 30.7 percent to 69.83 million tonnes on-year, customs data showed.Steel imports rose to 1.14 million tonnes from 0.95 million tonnes in October, but total January-November imports stood nearly steady at 12.1 million tonnes compared with 12.02 million tonnes a year ago.
China's imports have been growing at a double-digit pace since January.
It was the fastest annual increase since March 2017.
The trade surplus, a source of tension with major trade partners, came in at $40.2 billion, down from $43.1 billion a year earlier but more than the median projection of $35 billion.
In yuan terms, the surplus fell to 263.6 billion yuan, down from 285.4 billion yuan in October.
The latest figures beat most economists' forecasts and add to evidence that strengthening global and domestic demand is helping shore up China's economic growth.