China is aiming to increase exports of light industrial goods this year, particularly to the United States, as part of its drive to earn more foreign exchange.

The category covers a wide range of articles, from canned foods through watches to appliances.Such overseas sales last year brought in US$9 billion, according to Liu Shixiao, director of the Ministry of Light Industry's export division. The target this year is US$10 billion, he said Monday.

Statistics released by the ministry show that 8 percent of China's light industrial output goes to the United States, 7 percent to Japan, 5 percent to West Germany and 3 percent to Britain. Mr. Liu said efforts are being made to cultivate these "sophisticated" markets, stressing the improved quality of China's goods.

Customs administration figures show some substantial increases in exports of light industrial goods in the first quarter of this year over last.

Exports of television sets rose 56 percent, to more than 900,000 units, while those of tape recorders jumped 107 percent, to just over 4 million, according to customs records. Exports of industrial sewing machines are reported to have increased 16 percent and toys 43 percent.

Also included in this catchall category are ceramics, art work, embroidery, carpets, shoes, sporting equipment, musical instruments and bicycles. Mr. Liu said he expects overseas sales of all of them to rise this year.

Among his strong contenders are Shanghai's Phoenix-brand bicycles, which are now said to meet U.S. safety requirements, and glassware, which he said is in demand in the United States and Western Europe.

Many of these goods are produced in joint ventures or plants wholly owned by Hong Kong and Taiwan companies, which find the cheap labor and land attractive. Mr. Liu predicted an increase in the processing and assembly of light industrial products for overseas companies.

The customs administration said China had a first-quarter trade surplus of US$1.6 billion, compared with a deficit of US$1.88 billion a year earlier.

China exported 6 million TV sets worth US$337 million last year, according to the customs tally of 1989 trade.

Other big sellers among light industrial goods were electric fans (11 million units worth US$125 million), audio equipment (17 million units worth US$383 million), bicycles (2.4 million worth US$86.5 million) and shoes (340 million pairs worth US$698 million).

Overall, the customs authority reported, China had a trade deficit of US$6.6 billion last year. By contrast, the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade said it was a US$5 billion surplus. The difference arises

from the way goods are counted.