BEIJING — China’s politically sensitive trade surplus soared in May to the third-highest monthly level on record, according to government figures released Monday, amid growing pressure from U.S. lawmakers for sanctions against Beijing.The surplus hit $22.5 billion (16.9 billion euros), up 73 percent from last May,the Chinese customs agency said on its Web site. Exports jumped 28.7 percent to $94 billion (70 billion euros), while imports rose by19.1 percent to $71.6 billion (53.6 billion euros). China has promised to narrow its yawning trade gap under pressure from Washington and other governments, but economists say that multibillion-dollar surpluses are likely to continue.The United States wants Beijing to raise the value of its currency, the yuan, which critics say is undervalued, giving Chinese exporters an unfair advantage. Several American lawmakers are calling for punitive tariffs on Chinese goods if Beijing fails to act.Senior American and Chinese envoys met last month for the second round of a high-level dialogue meant to address trade disputes. But they have failed to defuse tensions with the U.S. Congress, where lawmakers say support for trade penalties is growing.The United States had a $232.5 billion trade deficit with China in 2006; this year’s figure is expected to surpass that.President Hu Jintao’s government insists it isn’t actively seeking a trade surplus and is taking steps to rein in booming exports by imposing taxes on steel shipments and repealing export rebates. China ended the yuan’s direct link to the U.S. dollar in July 2005 and raised its value by 2.1 percent. Since then, the yuan has been allowed to rise by about 5.7 percent in tightly controlled trading. It has trading recently at about 7.65 to the dollar. Many economists say a change in the yuan’s exchange rate on its own is unlikely to close the U.S. trade gap.The European Union was China’s biggest trading partner in the first five months of the year, with total two-way commerce rising 29 percent to $129.9 billion, according to the customs agency. It gave no breakdown of imports and exports.The United States was in second place, with two-way trade rising 18.2 percent to$115.2 billion from January to May, the agency said. Japan was No. 3, with trade up15.5 percent at $91.2 billion.Beijing is trying to cut dependence on exports by encouraging China’s consumers to spend more; that would increase im-ports and narrow the trade gap. That has had only limited success. Exports still are growing much faster than domestic retail sales.This year, China’s global trade surplus is $85.8 billion (64.3 billion euros), equal to nearly half the total $177.5 billion 2006 surplus, smaller than the bilateral trade gap with the United States;China has deficits elsewhere.165Let’s talk business.Catch up on the business news closest to you with our daily newsletter. Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!