It is essential for China to maintain a trade surplus and expand its share of global trade, a senior official said in comments reported on Tuesday that appeared to cut against the government's pledge to seek more balanced trade ties.

Zhong Shan, a vice commerce minister, said Beijing did indeed want a basic balance in trade, but only in relative terms.

A balance in trade is a relative balance, not an absolute balance. China is a developing nation; at the present stage it is very necessary to maintain a reasonable surplus, he said in comments published in the China Securities Journal.

Our foreign trade growth must be faster than the overall level of global trade growth, otherwise our country's share of global trade will fall, Zhong said.

His comments could add fuel to foreign criticism of Chinese policies, seen as giving the country's exporters an unfair advantage and thereby crimping other's chances of generating jobs through exports.

The United States and Europe, among others, have long said that China depresses the value of its currency, making its products cheaper.

Allegations of industrial subsidies have also started to pile up. The United States began a legal challenge at the World Trade Organization last week against Chinese subsidies for wind power equipment manufacturers and warned that it could file additional cases against Beijing's policies in the clean energy sector.

China's trade surplus was $196 billion last year and it is on track to reach about the same level this year.

(Reporting by Simon Rabinovitch; Editing by Chris Lewis)