GENEVA - China appealed at the last minute on Tuesday against a World Trade Organization ruling upholding parts of a U.S. complaint about Chinese restrictions on imports of films, books and other audio-visual material.

The move showed that China was continuing to pursue litigation against the United States on a range of trade issues, where relations have been soured by President Barack Obama's imposition on September 11 of tariffs on imports of cheap Chinese tires.

But it also showed that China was keen to play within the rules of the international trading system rather than pursuing a damaging trade war.

China is appealing the panel ruling, an official at China's WTO mission told Reuters in answer to an inquiry.

A WTO dispute panel found on August 12 that China's regime for importing and distributing audio-visual material broke international trade rules.

Beijing made clear from the start that it was considering challenging the finding, and Tuesday's move also demonstrated its interest in building up experience in using international trade law to defend its interests.

The WTO canceled a session of its dispute settlement body scheduled for 1300 GMT (9 a.m. EDT), at which the sole item on the agenda was the adoption of the panel report.

Washington had argued that China's controls on cultural products robbed U.S. publishers, Hollywood and entertainment multinationals of the chance to make substantial sales, leaving the way open for local pirates to sell counterfeit copies.

The ruling did not challenge the right of China's communist authorities to censor material they found objectionable, but said they could not use censorship to justify illegal trade barriers.

(Reporting by Jonathan Lynn; editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Tim Pearce)