SHANGHAI — China's politically sensitive trade surplus expanded to $22.27 billion in June, rising sharply from the previous month as the value of exports hit a new record high, government data showed Sunday.

The trade surplus -- a major point of tension for China's key trade partners, the United States and Europe -- outstripped May's $13.05 billion surplus and an economists' forecast for $14.3 billion.

Export growth slowed last month, expanding at 17.9 percent year-on-year to a record $161.98 billion -- but still a record high for a single month based on previous data -- customs authorities said in a statement.

Imports rose a slower-than-expected 19.3 percent on-year.

A Dow Jones Newswires survey of 14 economists had predicted a 19.2 percent rise in exports from a year earlier. The economists had expected June imports to expand 26.8 percent on-year.

The slowing exports could help ease concerns that China's currency is being kept artificially low giving it unfair trade benefits.

China's export price advantage had been hurt by yuan appreciation and higher domestic costs, Zheng Yuesheng, director of the customs agency's statistics department told reporters in Beijing on Sunday.

He warned China's trade growth faced increased pressure from a "slow global economic recovery full of uncertainties," the lingering euro zone debt crisis and the unstable political situation in the Middle East and north Africa.

March's earthquake in Japan also set back trade between the two countries, Zheng said.

Analysts have played down concerns of a potential hard landing for the Asian powerhouse spurred by persistent government efforts to stem credit inflows and tame inflation, which hovers above five percent.

Growth in China's manufacturing sector almost stalled in June and year-on-year auto sales have fallen for two straight months as the government fights to dampen inflation.

China said on Saturday its inflation rate accelerated in June to the highest level in three years, as the government struggles to rein in soaring food costs.

The country's consumer price index rose 6.4 percent in June, the National Bureau of Statistics said in a statement, the highest level since June 2008 when the inflation rate reached 7.1 percent.

The government has said it expects price pressures to ease in the second half.

Some analysts are concerned Beijing might go too far in tightening monetary policy and trigger a sharp slowdown in the world's second largest economy -- which could have dire consequences for the world.

-- Dow Jones Newswires contributed to this report