The Commerce Ministry has taken the unusual step of publicly denying China is the new number one. It says China still trailed the U.S. by $15.6bn last year "” or a razor-thin 0.3 percent "” under World Trade Organization standards for valuing goods.
Beijing wants to be a global leader but insists it still is a poor country. It is wary of any change that might erode that status and fuel demands for action to stimulate the global economy or concessions on trade and climate change.
"I think there is some concern from the Ministry of Commerce that this might be used as evidence by Western countries that China is not doing its part to rebalance the global economy," said Xianfang Ren, China analyst for IHS global insight.
China's explosive trade growth has abruptly altered global business. It created new opportunities for some but prompted complaints by the United States and others over its multibillion-dollar trade surpluses, market barriers and currency controls.
In just five years, China has surpassed the United States as a trading partner for much of the world, including American allies such as South Korea and Australia, according to an Associated Press analysis of trade data.
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