BEIJING – It’s a sign of the times when China’s plan to buy a few billion dollars worth of U.S. goods gets announced with the fanfare normally reserved for much larger deals. The point was to show that China knows it must make strides to equalize trade between the two nations, days before its negotiators travel to Washington to haggle with U.S. officials about trade. But whatever good may have come from the three-hour signing ceremony in California on Wednesday – when deals were announced for China to buy $4.3billion of U.S. technology – probably evaporated on Friday, after China said it posted a $16.88billion trade surplus in April, a good chunk of it likely from the United States. The April trade gap was below February’s $23.7billion – the second-highest level on record – but in line with steady increases in monthly trade surpluses during the past year. The announcement by China’s General Administration of Customs came against a backdrop of rising trade tensions between the world’s No.1 and No.3 economies. Chinese and U.S. trade envoys are due to meet May23-24 in Washington for talks on Beijing’s surpluses, currency controls, product piracy and other contentious issues. Some U.S. lawmakers are pushing for punitive tariffs on imports of Chinese goods if Beijing fails to ease currency controls that critics say keep its currency undervalued, giving exporters an unfair price advantage and adding to China’s trade surpluses. Washington is hoping the “strategic economic dialogue,” led by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi, helps to mollify critics and avert disruption in trade ties. Chinese President Hu Jintao made an unusual personal lobbying effort for the talks this week, expressing hopes for “positive progress” in a phone call with President George W. Bush. The Chinese government says it is not actively pursuing such large surpluses and has taken steps to reduce exports. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!