China's exports grew 14.1 percent in December from a year ago to hit a seven-month peak, exceeding market expectations for a 4 percent rise, while imports grew 6 percent on the year, double the forecast, boosting the country's trade surplus to $31.6 billion, from a surplus of $19.6 billion in November and sharply above a forecast of $19.7 billion.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.6 percent, Reuters reported, advancing immediately on the data after hovering around levels barely changed from Wednesday.
The news from China, Australia's largest trading partner, also boosted Australian shares up 0.3 percent and the Australian dollar up 0.3 percent to $1.0542 U.S.
Japan’s Nikkei extended gains to 0.8 percent as the yen resumed its weakening trend after a pause in the last couple of sessions, buoying exporters.
Foreign investors remained net buyers of Japanese stocks last week for an eighth consecutive week, while Japanese investors were net sellers of foreign bonds for the second week after two weeks of net purchases, government data showed on Thursday.
The dollar rose 0.2 percent to 88.07 yen, inching closer to its highest since July 2010 at 88.48 reached on Friday. The euro was also up 0.1 percent to 114.93 yen. It last week hit 115.995 yen, its highest since July 2011.
"China has shown signs of cyclical recovery since last fall, and the trade figures offered a piece of evidence," Tetsuro Ii, the chief executive of Commons Asset Management, told Reuters.
A weak reading from China could have hurt sentiment for risk assets.
Global equities rose modestly on Wednesday after Alcoa kickstarted the U.S. earnings season with a brighter outlook for global demand. U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill followed with a four-fold increase in quarterly earnings on Wednesday.
The FTSEurofirst 300 ended at a 22-month closing high on Wednesday.
London copper was up 0.2 percent at $8,096.25 a ton while U.S. crude futures rose 0.3 percent to $93.38 a barrel as the Chinese data raised hopes for firmer demand for commodities.