Despite the world already feeling downward pressure on global growth from the slowing of the Chinese economy, the official announcement of 6.9-percent annual growth surprised everyone as an unexpectedly sharp fall
China's economy cooled further in the latest quarter, dragging 2015's full-year growth to a quarter-century low and deepening a slowdown that has fueled anxiety over its impact on the global economy.
The world's second-largest economy grew 6.9 percent in 2015, the government said Tuesday, down from 7.3 percent in the previous year. For the October-December quarter, growth inched down to 6.8 percent, the weakest quarterly expansion in six years.
China's growth has fallen steadily over the past five years as the ruling Communist Party tries to steer away from a worn-out model based on investment and trade toward self-sustaining growth driven by domestic consumption and services.
But the unexpectedly sharp decline over the past two years prompted fears of a politically dangerous spike in job losses. The slowdown has rippled around the world, crimping demand for South Korean electronics and Australian iron ore as well as Middle East oil and Brazilian soy.
The Chinese slowdown and a plunge in Shanghai stock prices have prompted concern about a further loss of support from an economy once seen as an engine of global growth. That has depressed international financial markets even as the United States and Europe show signs of improvement.
"Official data do not point to a hard landing in the fourth quarter of 2015, but they provide little reason to stop worrying about China's drag on the global economy, either," said economist Bill Adams of PNC Financial Services Group in a report.
Growth was in line with private sector forecasts and the ruling Communist Party's official target of about 7 percent for the year.
China's Shanghai Composite jumped 3.2 percent and other Asian markets also rose. ınvestors were relieved that more pessimistic forecasts about fourth quarter growth were wrong and also expect Beijing to continue rolling out stimulus measures to prevent a hard landing. Beijing responded to ebbing growth by cutting interest rates six times since November, 2014, and launched measures to help exporters and other industries. But economists note China still relies on state-led construction spending and other investment.
Full-year 2015 growth was the lowest since sanctions imposed on Beijing following its crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement caused growth to plummet to 3.8 percent in 1990.
The October-December growth figure was the slowest quarterly expansion since the global financial crisis, when growth slumped to 6.1 percent in the first quarter of 2009.
Compared with the previous quarter, the measurement other major countries use, China's growth slowed to 1.6 percent in the October-December period from the previous quarter's 1.8 percent.
"The international situation remains complex," said Wang Bao'an, commissioner of the National Bureau of Statistics, as a news conference. "Restructuring and upgrading is in an uphill stage. Comprehensively deepening reform is a daunting task."
Growth in investment in factories, housing and other fixed assets, a key economic driver, weakened to 12 percent in 2015, down 2.9 percentage points from the previous year. Retail sales growth cooled to 10.6 percent from 2014's 12 percent.
December exports shrank 1.4 percent from a year earlier, well below the ruling party's target of 6 percent trade growth. For the full year, exports were down 7.6 percent, a blow to industries that employ millions of Chinese workers.