China's imports rose 1.5 percent year-on-year in August, figures showed Thursday, the first increase in nearly two years, in a positive sign for the world's second-largest economy.
Exports dropped 2.8 percent on-year to $190.6 billion, a smaller fall than the median forecast in a survey of economists by Bloomberg News.
The data from Customs was the latest indicator of improving health for the world's biggest trader in goods, with the rise in imports -- to $138.5 billion -- the first since October 2014.
China is crucial to the global economy and its performance affects partners from Australia to Zambia, which have been battered by its slowing growth.
Its economy expanded 6.9 percent last year, its weakest rate in a quarter of a century.
The "big surprise" of the results was imports, said Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics, as they hinted at stronger domestic demand.
He noted that some of the improvement could be attributed to a recovery in commodity prices after years of declines.
Customs data also showed that import volumes of key commodities rose year-on-year, with iron ore climbing 18.3 percent, crude oil up 23.5 percent, and coal surging 52.0 percent.
Post-flood purchases after a summer of unusually heavy rains and widespread flooding in southern China also lifted imports, Zhao Yang of Nomura said in a note, pointing particularly to increased buying of automobiles to replace destroyed vehicles, and greater use of iron ore and oil owing to reconstruction work.
But such boosts will be short-lived as recovery efforts conclude, he said, adding that import growth was likely to be "more transient than long-lasting".
In the fourth quarter "downward pressures posed by the possible slowdown of property investment" were likely to weigh down both imports and general growth momentum, he said.