Other analysts have pointed toward the recovery on the mainland.
"Growth momentum in China has actually improved a little bit in the second half of the year, led by the improvement in the industrial sectors and also the financial market recovery [in] year-on-year growth terms," Li Wei, a China economist at CBA, told CNBC's "The Rundown" on Friday before the data's release. "We think China's economy has entered this year, 2017, on a firmer footing."
But he noted that China's economic performance this year would depend on the global recovery, particularly whether the mainland's exports pick up. He estimated that declining exports had shaved 0.5 percentage point from China's GDP growth in 2016. If exports to the EU and U.S. recover, that would turn "flat," and China's 2017 economic growth could pick up to around 6.8 percent, Li said.
Other data released on Friday also appeared to paint a less gloomy picture of the economy.
China's retail sales for December rose 10.9 percent on-year, slightly ahead of a Reuters poll forecasting 10.7 percent.
Industrial output for December rose 6.0 percent on-year, a tad below a Reuters poll forecast for 6.1 percent.
But in what may be a worrying trend, fixed-asset investment remained a dim spot.
For the full year, fixed-asset investment rose 8.1 percent, slightly below a Reuters poll forecast for 8.3 percent, with Reuters noting that was the slowest pace of growth since 1999, during the Asian financial crisis.
That came as policymakers were working to stem capital outflows. Earlier this month, China reported that its foreign exchange reserves fell for a sixth straight month in December, declining by $41 billion for the month, to $3.011 trillion, the lowest since early 2011.
Policymakers have shored capital controls in an effort to stem outflows.
But in a note published Friday, analysts at HSBC said that was only a temporary solution, with the outflows merely a symptom of larger problems.
"We believe that weak domestic investment and rising capital outflows is a reflection of declining business confidence in the domestic economy," HSBC said.
HSBC advocated policymakers pursue a coordinated package of tax cuts as well as faster reforms of state-owned enterprises to offer the private sector more opportunities.
—Aza Wee Sile contributed to this article.
—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1
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