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Despite a growing trade surplus with the rest of the world and a claim to be the global centre of tech manufacturing, China’s technology exports were worth $US10bn less than its imports in 2011.

Zhou Liujun, a senior official with the Ministry of Commerce, told a press conference at the Shanghai International Technology Fair on Thursday that China’s techology imports totalled $32.16 billion in 2011, up 25.5 per cent year-on-year, while the value of its exports stood $21.4 billion, according to China Daily.

There were mixed messages from Zhou, however, who claimed on the one hand that Chinese firms are changing rapidly from tech importers to exporters and that the “country's technology exports have entered a fast-growing phase”, but also said a short-term turnaround in the deficit is structurally impossible.

"We should concentrate on the structural balance of technology trade. Imported technology is urgently needed for our manufacturing sector improving efforts and can save costs in research and development," Zhou said, according to the Daily.

"On the other hand, China has made important technology advances in the past decades and has great potential for export.”

Of those “fast growing” Chinese exports, software accounted for nearly 90 per cent.

The $10bn+ tech trade deficit is at odds with China’s overall surplus, which widened to $32bn in October, its biggest in 45 months, according to the China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

The specific trade imbalance between China and the US recently became one of the key battlegrounds for the US presidential election, following high profile reports such as that from the Economic Policy Institute released in August.

It calculated that the US trade deficit with China had cost the country more than 2.7 million jobs between 2001 and 2011.

China's $398.5bn of exports to the United States in 2011 were over four times greater than US exports the other way, which amounted to just $96.9bn.

China, however, has been using the figures to push for a loosening on US export restrictions on hi-tech products covering over 2,000 different technologies. ®

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