BEIJING (Reuters) - Vehicle sales in China rose 13.9 percent last year from a year earlier, beating expectations and capped off by a 17.9 percent surge in December, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) said on Thursday.

The results far exceeded the industry group's forecast of 7 percent for the full year, marking a solid rebound in the world's biggest automobile market following two years of stagnant growth.

The recovery was partly aided by a rebound in sales of Japanese cars, whose China sales had slumped in 2012 due to anti-Japanese sentiment triggered by a territorial dispute between the two countries.

China's vehicle sales growth rate plummeted in 2011 and 2012 to 2.5 percent and 4.3 percent, respectively, after a decade of rapid growth when auto demand often surged as much as 30 to 40 percent a year.

(Reporting by Jonathan Standing and Xiaoyi Shao; Writing by Samuel Shen; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)