China's economy expanded 8.1 percent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2012, slowing from 8.9 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said Friday.
The quarterly growth was the slowest in 11 quarters and failed to match market expectations of 8.3 to 8.5 percent.
On a quarterly basis, the country's economy grew 1.8 percent in the first three months, NBS spokesman Sheng Laiyun said at a press conference.
According to preliminary statistics, the country's GDP reached 10.7995 trillion yuan (1.72 trillion U.S. dollars) during the period.
Sheng said the first-quarter growth rate was not low compared with other economies, and was gained against the backdrop of a faltering global recovery and new conditions emerging domestically, which included difficult operations in small and medium-sized enterprises.
Challenged by a sluggish external market, China lowered its full-year growth target for 2012 to 7.5 percent in early March, after its economy grew 9.2 percent year-on-year last year.
Despite a further slowdown from last year, the economy's growth showed signs of stabilization, Sheng said, citing positive month-on-month growth in the country's major economic indicators.
In March, industrial value-added output grew 11.9 percent year-on-year, higher the first two months' 11.4 percent. Retail sales grew 15.2 percent, an increase of 14.7 percent from the Jan.-Feb. period, Sheng said.
Fixed asset investment rose 20.9 percent year-on-year in the first quarter, dropping 0.6 percentage points from the Jan.-Feb. period. But its real growth after deducting price factors still exceeded that registered during the Jan.-Feb. period, he noted.
"We believe the economy will continue maintaining moderately steady growth in the future, because the country's economic fundamentals have not changed," the spokesman said.
Sheng explained that the country is still undergoing a rapid process of industrialization, urbanization, marketization and internationalization, which will unleash huge investment and consumption potential.
He also dispelled speculation of deflation, saying that China still has favorable conditions such as sufficient supplies of farm produce and industrial products to keep prices in check.
The country's consumer price index, a main gauge of inflation, rose 3.6 percent year-on-year in March, up from a 20-month low of 3.2 percent in February.