China could no longer rely on exports to expand its economy as it had done over the past 30 years, said Zhang Yansheng, former secretary general of an academic committee at the National Development and Reform Commission.
This is because exports became unsustainable and would put too much strain on ties with the rest of the world, especially as protectionism grew, he said.
"The next stage is an open economy that focuses on a balance of trade," Zhang told Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.
"Expanding imports is a very significant part of China becoming a big global power," he said.
China's exports increased 10.8 per cent to reach 15.33 trillion yuan while imports surged 18.7 per cent to 12.46 trillion yuan in 2017, the General Administration of Customs (GAC) said.
The trade surplus continued to narrow last year, shrinking 14.2 per cent to 2.87 trillion yuan, compared to a reduction of 9.1 per cent registered in 2016 that saw 3.35 trillion yuan in trade surplus.
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