BEIJING: China's economy grew by 9% in 2008, the lowest annual rate of expansion for seven years, according to figures published by the country's National Bureau of Statistics.

The fourth quarter of 2008 saw Chinese economic growth slow to 6.8%, while the full-year figure represents the first occasion in five years that annual growth has slipped below 10%.

According to the NBS, the economic downturn first impacted on small businesses and the export sector, before exerting a detrimental impact on larger corporations and the broader economy.

Many analysts argue the country is unlikely to meet the government's 8% growth target for this year, and estimate 5% to 6% expansion for 2009.

However, Ma Jiantang, a commissioner at the NBS, was more optimistic, waxing: "The fourth quarter did present some grave challenges and difficulties, but they are temporary. Just like the freezing weather we had this morning, it will not last forever."

Data sourced from Times Online; additional content by WARC staff