BEIJING – China's economic growth slowed to a 24-year low of 7.4 percent in the first quarter, raising the risk of job losses and a potential impact on its trading partners.
The figure reported Wednesday by the government was down from the previous quarter's 7.7 percent. It came in below the full-year official growth target of 7.5 percent announced last month.
Beijing is trying to guide China to slower, more sustainable growth based on domestic consumption rather than trade and investment following a decade of explosive expansion.
Growth in retail sales, factory output and investment also slowed, raising the possibility of politically dangerous job losses.
Chinese leaders have signaled they are willing to tolerate growth below the official target so long as the economy keeps creating enough jobs to avoid potential unrest. In a sign of concern about employment, they launched a mini-stimulus in March of higher spending on construction of railways, low-cost housing and other public works.
In a speech last week, Premier Li Keqiang, the country's top economic official, said the economy still faced "downward pressure" but ruled out additional stimulus. He said Beijing would focus on "long-term efforts to achieve sustainable and healthy development."
The latest growth numbers are the weakest since China's economic growth tumbled to 3.8 percent in 1990 following the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests that led to Beijing's international isolation.
Weaker growth could have global repercussions, hurting Asian economies and others such as Australia and Brazil for which China is the leading market for commodities and industrial components.
Chinese imports suffered an unexpectedly sharp contraction of 11.3 percent in March in a sign of weak raw materials demand from manufacturing and construction.
"A hard landing in China's economy is one of the biggest risks clouding the outlook for the rest of emerging Asia," said Capital Economics in a report this week.
National Bureau of Statistics (in Chinese): www.stats.gov.cn