China's economic growth slowed to 7 percent in the first three months of this year, stepping up pressure on Beijing to reverse a deepening downturn.

The growth rate reported Wednesday was down from 7.3 percent in the final quarter of 2015 and China's weakest quarterly performance since the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis.

Communist leaders are trying to steer China to slower, more sustainable growth based on domestic consumption instead of trade and investment. But a deepening decline over the past year has raised fears of job losses and social tensions.

The government has cut interest rates twice since November and taken other steps to shore up growth.

Growth in factory output slowed to 6.4 percent in the first quarter from nearly 10 percent in December.