The trade data was the latest positive economic news for China after the International Monetary Fund released a report this week raising the country's growth forecasts for 2017 and 2018 to 6.8 per cent and 6.5 per cent, respectively. China's exports to North Korea dropped a more modest 6.7 per cent in September, Huang Songping, spokesman for the customs department, told a news conference.
The data also suggested further improvement in the global economy, with business activity and demand having picked up markedly this year in Europe and the United States.
The surplus with the 28-nation European Union, China's biggest trading partner, was $9.2 billion.
Speaking at a press conference, Customs administration spokesman Huang Songping said China's imports from North Korea had dropped by nearly 38 percent in September year-on-year, while exports were down 6.7 percent.
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It is good news for President Xi who is expected to secure a second five-year term as general secretary of the Communist Party during its twice-a-decade congress, which opens on Wednesday.
The gain was stronger than the most optimistic forecast in a Reuters analysts poll.
In addition to pointing to still robust demand, some of the surge in September imports may be due to companies "front loading" supplies ahead of a week-long national holiday in early October, analysts said.
The trade surplus narrowed in September to $28.47 billion from almost $42 billion the previous month, falling short of expectations for a $37.3 billion surplus.
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Capital Economics' China economist, Julian Evans-Pritchard, said the timing of the mid-Autumn festival this year also meant there were more working days last month than in September 2016, suggesting October figures should show a partial reversal.
China's imports have been growing at a double-digit pace since January. Imports rose 18.7%, exceeding estimates with the fastest growth since March, to result in a trade surplus of $28.5 billion. The customs agency said it will publish details its trade in specific products with North Korea on Oct 23. US officials have resumed criticizing Chinese policy after President Donald Trump said in April he would temporarily shelve disputes while Washington and Beijing cooperated on North Korea.
That could see a further rise in borrowing costs for companies and consumers.
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