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BEIJING: China’s total trade with Russia in May soared to levels not seen since the beginning of Moscow’s war in Ukraine, official data showed Wednesday, as Beijing steps up support for its sanctions-hit ally.

Trade between the two countries last month was worth $20.5 billion, data from Beijing showed, with Chinese imports from Russia worth $11.3 billion.

There was no official breakdown of the figures, which also showed China’s exports more broadly falling for the first time since February — breaking a two-month growth streak as a post-Covid rebound.

Rising global inflation, the threat of recession elsewhere and geopolitical tensions with the United States have weakened demand for Chinese products. But China’s trade with Russia bucked the otherwise grim trend for Beijing.

China is Russia’s largest trading partner, with trade between them reaching a record $190 billion last year, according to Chinese customs data. During a summit in March, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian leader Vladimir Putin pledged to boost trade to $200 billion in 2023 as they hailed their “no limits” partnership.

And Russian energy deliveries to China were set to grow by 40 percent this year, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said last month. Beijing says it is a neutral party in the Ukraine war, but has been criticised by Western countries for refusing to condemn Moscow and for its close strategic partnership with Russia.

Figures Wednesday also showed exports to Russia rising 75.6 percent in May, the highest rate since Moscow invaded Ukraine, even as trade with most major European markets and the United States fell.

And the data more broadly highlighted weaknesses in the world’s number two economy, with manufacturing activity shrinking in May for the second successive month.

Reports said Wednesday that authorities have asked the country’s biggest banks to lower their deposit rates in a bid to boost the economy.

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