PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Exports from Oregon increased last year, led by high-tech sales and record shipments to China.

Foreign sales jumped 19 percent to nearly $17.7 billion while exports to China, the state's biggest foreign customer, accounted for more than $4 billion of that total, The Oregonian reported.

"You saw a drop with every other market, but not China," said Ivo Trummer, global strategies manager for Business Oregon, the state economic development agency. "It just kept going the entire time."

China and Malaysia now lead the pack for Oregon exports, displacing Canada and Japan. European rankings have fallen as developing countries eclipse wealthier economies to become Oregon's biggest foreign customers.

Larger companies, notably Intel Corp. and TriQuint Semiconductor, tend to drive Oregon export trends. Intel's shipments of silicon wafers for test and assembly in Malaysia probably pushed the Southeast Asia nation ahead of Canada and Japan in 2009 as Oregon customers.

Tom Potiowsky, state government's chief economist, said exports to China have been a significant factor in the recovery.

"It didn't pull us out of the recession," Potiowsky said, "but it's helping."

The shift toward emerging Pacific Rim economies has also forced exporters to change tactics, shifting from established corporate customers to upstarts in rapidly growing markets.

The switch increases risks — U.S. goods are routinely copied by product pirates in China, for example — but also boosts returns far beyond what most companies can expect in America's slowly recovering economy.

Josh Lehner, an economist in Oregon's Office of Economic Analysis, expects the state's exports to continue growing. Foreign sales support not only manufacturers and exporters, but related jobs such as longshoremen and truck drivers, he said.

More Oregon companies find they must plug into foreign markets to grow. Even some startups are opening offices abroad, something that only established corporations used to do.

Managers of Azuray Technologies Inc., a Portland solar-equipment maker launched in 2008, announced this week they would open a one-man China office. The company, which employs about 30 in Portland, uses a contract manufacturer in the metro area.

Gov. John Kitzhaber plans to lead a trade trip to Asia this fall, including stops in China.