China's slowing growth in its imports will unsettle Chancellor George Osborne who is looking to export more to the world's second largest economy as a way of guiding the UK to economic recovery, after worse-than-expected first quarter GDP figures for the Asian powerhouse.

GDP growth in China for the first quarter of the year slowed to its lowest rate for three years, sending shivers down the spines of investors and western governments who look to the world's second largest economy as the potential saviour for the West, which is mired in financial crisis.

"Over the last decade, our share of world exports shrank as Germany's grew. We sold more to Ireland than to Brazil, Russia, India and China - put together," Osborne said in his 2012 Budget speech.

"That was the road to Britain's economic irrelevance.

"We want to double our nation's exports to £1tn this decade."

Growth in China was 8.1 percent for the first three months, down from forecasts of 8.3 percent.

This is significantly down on its growth for the final quarter of 2011, which came in at 8.9 percent.

Import figures were up 6.9 percent on the year, to $429.35bn (£269.7bn).

It is pointedly less than the year-on-year rise of 11.8 percent in China's imports for the previous quarter.

"In the first quarter of 2012, faced with the complicated and volatile international environment and the new emerging challenges in domestic economic development ... [the] national economy stabilised and maintained steady and comparatively fast growth," Sheng Laiyun, spokesman for the National Bureau of Statistics of China, said.

Osborne faces competition from others who view Chinese money as a solution to their economic woes, particularly in the eurozone which is wallowing in a seemingly perpetual sovereign debt crisis.

The FTSE 100 had fallen by 0.6 percent at 10:30am London time, while sterling was down 0.2749 percent against the yuan.

British thinktank the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) said China's apparent slowdown was "good news".

"Now the second-largest economy, the East Asian giant has to ease its pace to keep from stumbling in its quest for prosperity," Tim Ohlenburg, senior economist at CEBR, said.

"China cannot grow faster than the world economy indefinitely because it would eventually become bigger than the world.

"Amid many constraints China is learning to walk with its own momentum rather than running to satisfy external demand. Slower GDP growth is a sign of this."

Ohlenburg added: "The rest of the world should be glad because the slower it goes the less likely China is to stumble and crash, crushing global growth in its fall."