A senior official said advances in regulating the organ transplant network should lead to more people signing up as voluntary donors, eliminating the need to harvest from executed prisoners.
All transplant organs would come from voluntary donors once two out of every one million residents had signed up, said Dr Huang Jiefu , the former deputy health minister and a director of the China Organ Donation and Transplant Committee, an industry group established this month.
The rate is currently 0.2 people per one million residents in the 25 provinces and municipalities where pilot programmes for voluntary donations are under way. The rate is 47 in Spain - the highest in the world - 20 in the United States and five in Taiwan.
"I believe there will soon be tens of millions registering to become donors as [organ transplant work] makes progress," Huang said on the sidelines of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
The mainland conducts more than 10,000 transplants each year, but a severe shortage of organs means that four out of five patients die while waiting for a suitable match. In previous years, about 65 per cent of transplanted organs came from deceased donors - mostly executed prisoners.
The government is trying to raise the ethical standards of the system to international levels. In September, authorities introduced a computerised system to match organs to patients most in need. It covers all 169 hospitals allowed to carry out transplants.
Previously, hospitals were forced to source organs through their own channels and were reluctant to share, which fuelled illegal trade.
Huang admitted the roll-out of the new system had faced problems. "In the beginning, it did not run well because [some] surgeons contacted armed police directly … but then it became compulsory to use the computerised system.
"Fifty per cent of organs from last year's organ transplant comes from voluntary donors allocated through this system," said Huang. "I am expecting to see more this year."
A total of 38 hospitals signed an agreement in November to use organs procured only through ethical means. That has since risen to more than 100.
Huang said a hospital approved for transplants would lose its accreditation if it did not join the pledge.