However, the data show December exports to US contracted 3.5 percent compared with year ago as Trump tariff hikes hit.
Softening demand in China is already being felt around the world, with slowing sales of goods ranging from iPhones to automobiles prompting profit warnings from the likes of Apple and Jaguar Land Rover.
For the month, imports also unexpectedly contracted, falling 7.6 percent, the biggest decline since July 2016.
Traditionally China imports vast quantities of American soybeans in the second half of the year - but the buying fell off after China hit USA soybeans with a 25 percent retaliatory import tariff this summer.
"The export growth print also suggests that the recent strength of the yuan might be short-lived; Beijing will perhaps be more eager to strike a trade deal with the U.S.; and that policymakers will need to take more aggressive measures to stabilise GDP growth".
"Overall economic growth slowed further in the fourth quarter and remains under pressure from weaker exports, slow credit growth and cooling real estate activity".
"Meanwhile, with policy easing unlikely to put a floor beneath domestic economic activity until the second half of this year, import growth is likely to remain subdued".
In 2017, the trade difference between the two world's largest economies was $275.8 billion in China's favor.
Exports rose 7.1 per cent, customs data showed Monday, down from the 7.9 per cent reported earlier for 2017.
China's trade surplus with the U.S. widened a year ago, while the country's imports and exports fell in December as the trade war begins to bite in the world's second biggest economy.
China's surplus with the USA is a hot-button issue with the administration of President Donald Trump, which slapped new import tariffs on billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods past year.
Exports to the United States held up through late 2018 despite President Donald Trump's tariff hikes on Chinese goods.
But the buying fell off previous year after China imposed a 25% retaliatory tariff on the commodity in the summer.
China exports to the US declined 3.5 per cent in December while its imports from the USA were down 35.8 per cent for the month.
On a global level, China's exports have grown by 9.9 percent past year, but the Asian country also marked a 15.8 percent growth in imports.
But December's gloomy data seemed to suggest the US front-loading effect has tapered off, and after several months of falling factory orders a further weakening in China's exports is widely expected in coming months.
Trump wants Beijing to buy more American goods to narrow the yawning trade gap and allow foreign players better access and protection in the Chinese market.
The higher tariffs China levied on US supplies also hit the country's overall import growth.
Even if Washington and Beijing reach a trade deal in their current round of talks, it would be no panacea for China's slowing economy, analysts say.