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HONG KONG (AP) China's exports rebounded to relatively strong growth in October while imports accelerated, adding to signs of a recovery in the world's second-largest economy.

Exports rose 5.6 percent over a year earlier to $185.4 billion, government figures showed Friday. That was a marked improvement over September's unexpected and rare decline of 0.3 percent, blamed on weak global demand.

The improvement in trade eases pressure on Beijing for additional economic stimulus, allowing communist leaders to focus on longer-term reforms meant to steer the economy to more sustainable growth based on domestic consumption instead of trade and investment.

Communist Party leaders are due to meet Saturday for an annual congress that reform advocates hope produces commitments to more market-style changes.

Economic growth rebounded to 7.8 percent in the three months ended in September after hitting a two-decade low of 7.5 percent the previous quarter.

Surveys of manufacturers by HSBC Corp. and a Chinese industry group show activity improved slightly in October. HSBC said companies reported their strongest hiring in seven months.

"China's export numbers suggests some, although not yet decisive, improvement in global demand momentum," said RBS economist Louis Kuijs in a research note.

"We expect actual export growth to rise in the coming quarters, reflecting a gradual economic upturn in the U.S. and Europe."

Analysts have warned that the modest recovery is underpinned by government spending rather than trade or consumer demand and could weaken.

In another sign of quickening domestic activity, October imports expanded 7.6 percent to $154.3 billion, up from September's 7.4 percent growth.

China's politically sensitive trade surplus narrowed by about 3 percent from a year earlier to $31.1 billion.

The trade surplus with the 27-nation European Union, China's biggest trading partner, widened by 11 percent to $12 billion. The surplus with the United States widened 5.5 percent to $22.8 billion.

Some analysts have suggested China's exports might be even stronger than they appear. They say companies reported inflated figures earlier as an excuse to evade currency controls and bring extra money into China.

The customs agency has defended the accuracy of its data but acknowledged trade growth might look weak due to unusually strong figures last year.

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General Administration of Customs of China (in Chinese): www.customs.gov.cn