Updated: 06/01/2014 11:18 | By Agence France-Presse

China manufacturing up in May

China's manufacturing activity strengthened to a five-month high in May, the government said Sunday, the third straight month of improvement amid slowing overall growth in the world's second-largest economy.

China manufacturing up in May

Workers at a handbag factory completing orders to be sold through the Chinese internet e-commerce site Taobao in Baigou, Hebei Province, April 24, 2014 - by Mark Ralston

The official purchasing managers index (PMI) reached 50.8 in May, the National Bureau of Statistics said in a statement, up from 50.4 in March. 

The index tracks manufacturing activity in China's factories and workshops and is a closely watched indicator of the health of the economy. A reading above 50 indicates growth.

The result beat the median forecast of 50.6 in a survey of eight economists by Dow Jones Newswires.

A private survey published last month by British bank HSBC put China's PMI at a preliminary 49.7 in May -- also a five-month high -- and above April's 48.1.

China's official May result was the highest since a reading of 51.0 in December.

The data came after China's economic growth for the first three months of 2014 came in at its weakest pace in 18 months.

Gross domestic product grew 7.4 percent in the first quarter from the same period the year before, weaker than the 7.7 percent in the October-December period.

The result was the worst since a similar 7.4 percent expansion in the third quarter of 2012.

China's leadership says it wants to make private demand the key driver for the country's economic growth, moving away from over-reliance on huge and often wasteful investment projects that have girded decades of expansion.

Such a transformation is expected to result in growth that is slower but seen as more sustainable in the long run.

China in March set its annual growth target for this year at about 7.5 percent, the same as last year. 

Officials, including Premier Li Keqiang, have been quick, however, to stress that the target is flexible -- seen as a hint it may not be achieved.

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