Chinese imports slumped nearly 18% last month, official figures showed today.

The figures highlight the task facing the country's leaders as commodities prices slump on the back of a slowing growth in the world's second-largest economy. 

The Asian giant is the world's leading trader in goods but a slowdown in economic growth has led to a sharp fall in demand for the resources it uses - such as iron ore and oil - hitting producer countries such as Australia. 

Imports sank 17.7% to 924 billion yuan (around $146 billion). 

Oil import prices were among the sharpest fallers, China's Customs office said, even as crude purchases went up 8.8%. 

Beijing is trying to transform the country's economic model to a more sustainable one where consumers replace exports and state-led investment as the key driver of growth. But the task is proving challenging. 

Expansion last year slowed to its lowest rate since 1990 and continues to soften despite policy supports including five interest rate cuts since November. 

The International Monetary Fund last week warned that the country could be headed for a hard landing unless leaders get a grip on the current crisis. 

Chinese demand for commodities has become a key driver of economic growth for many of the country's trade partners. 

Huge investments by Beijing in infrastructure, such as country-wide high speed rail networks, once drove a seemingly endless demand for raw materials. 

But slowing growth has resulted in a global slide in commodity prices - bad news for commodity-dependent supplier economies that have staked their future on constantly rising demand. 

Slipping economic figures have raised expectations at home and abroad that Beijing will take stronger stimulus measures. 

At the weekend Premier Li Keqiang urged local authorities to accelerate provision of affordable housing, raising hopes that raw materials demand will rise. 

China has also been hit by falling demand in some key markets for its manufactured goods, and September exports slipped by 1.1% to 1.30 trillion yuan, Customs said. 

But that was an improvement on August's decline and significantly better than the 6% drop forecast in a survey of economists by Bloomberg News.