10/13/2015 08:23 EDT | Updated 10/13/2016 05:12 EDT

China's September Imports Plunge 20.4% In New Sign Economy Is Tanking

BEIJING — China's September imports fell by an unexpectedly wide margin of 20.4 per cent from a year ago in a new sign of weakness in the world's second-largest economy.

The fall in imports worsened from August's 5.5 per cent contraction, defying stimulus efforts aimed at halting an economic slowdown, customs data showed Tuesday. Exports shrank 3.7 per cent, though that was an improvement from the previous month's 13.8 per cent decline.

U.S. stocks edged lower Tuesday on the news.

Weakness in trade has fueled doubts Beijing can hit its economic growth target this year of about 7 per cent.

Much of China's slowdown over the past five years was self-imposed as the ruling Communist Party tries to steer the economy to more self-sustaining growth based on domestic consumption. But the past year's unexpectedly deep decline has raised fears of politically dangerous job losses.

The government has cut interest rate five times since November and pumped money into the economy through spending on public works construction.

"Import growth appears to have come in weaker than expected," Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics said in a report.

"This suggests that domestic demand may have softened," though part of the decline is due to a drop in global commodity prices, which makes foreign goods cheaper, he said. "Import volumes are holding up much better."

Oil Exec Sentenced To Prison

A Chinese court sentenced a former senior executive of a state oil company on Tuesday to 20 years in prison after finding him guilty of corruption.

The sentencing of Wang Yongchun, former deputy general manager of China National Petroleum Corp., came a day after the company's former chairman, Jiang Jiemin, was given 16 years' imprisonment for corruption.

The Xiangyang Intermediate People's Court in central China said Wang received 49 million yuan ($7.9 million) in bribes between 2000 and 2013 and failed to explain the source of another 42 million yuan.

It said Wang — at Jiang's direction — provided assistance to others, causing huge losses to the state.

China's oil industry has been targeted in a sweeping anti-graft campaign that has toppled many high-ranking officials of state companies. The oil industry used to be a power base for Zhou Yongkang, a retired member of the all-powerful standing committee of the ruling Communist Party's Politburo.

Zhou is serving life in jail for corruption. Many of his associates — including Jiang and Wang — also have been convicted of corruption.