* Total central govt SOE profits reach $218 bln
* Total assets up 7.9 pct compared to 2016
* Firms under pressure to slash capacity in major sectors in 2018 (Adds total assets, private capital injections, background)
BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Total profit at enterprises owned by China's central government rose 15.2 percent in 2017 to 1.4 trillion yuan ($217.5 billion), state media reported, citing figures released at a government conference on Monday.
The total profit was the highest ever, the Communist Party-backed People's Daily said, while the rate of growth was the highest in five years, according to state news agency Xinhua.
The profit figures vindicate plans the Chinese government announced in 2015 to overhaul its lumbering and debt-ridden state sector, launching a radical reform programme designed to make state-owned enterprises (SOEs) more profitable and responsive to the market.
Xinhua said operating revenue for central government-owned enterprises rose 13.3 percent last year to 26.4 trillion yuan. Total assets reached 54.5 trillion yuan by the end of last year, People's Daily said, an increase of 7.9 percent versus 2016.
China has already cut the number of enterprises administered by the central government to 98 from 117 in 2012 through a series of high-profile mergers and acquisitions.
The remaining state-owned companies have been under pressure to improve their management to attract private capital.
Reforms to promote mixed ownership in sectors such as power, oil, gas, shipping and telecommunications led to the injection of more than 90 billion yuan of private capital in 2017, the Shanghai Securities News reported on Tuesday, citing the same meeting.
But state-run firms have also benefited from the upturn in a number of major industrial sectors over the last year, as well as a campaign to shut down loss-making "zombie" enterprises and tackle excess capacity in areas such as steel and coal.
The Communist Party's People's Daily reported on Tuesday that China's central government SOEs met their target of shutting down 1,200 zombie enterprises by the end of last year.
State-owned businesses will target coal capacity cuts of 12.65 million tonnes in 2018, and will also aim to reduce excess capacity at companies involved in coal-fired power, nonferrous metals, shipbuilding and construction materials..
China's SOEs are expected to accelerate reform of their ownership structures this year, but officials have made it clear that the role of the Communist Party will be strengthened to ensure such companies continue to implement state strategies at home and overseas.
Chua Han Teng, head of Asia Country Risk at BMI Research, said while political concerns about "social stability" could prevent any aggressive new reform push, the overhaul in ownership structures among SOEs has remained "more profit-driven rather than policy-driven."
"Overall, a faster pace of reform will likely improve the long-term efficiency and performance of SOEs and reduce the misallocation of resources in the economy," he added.
($1 = 6.4365 yuan) (Reporting by Beijing Monitoring Desk and David Stanway; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Louise Heavens)