* Exports up 7 pct y/y vs forecast of 6.6 pct
* Imports down 1.6 pct y/y vs forecast of 6.1 pct rise
* Trade surplus $35.9 bln vs forecast of $22.6 bln
(Adds details, quotes)
BEIJING, June 8 (Reuters) - China's exports gained steam in May due to the global economic recovery, data showed on Sunday, but an unexpected fall in imports could signal weaker domestic demand.
Exports rose 7 percent in May from a year earlier, quickening from April's 0.9 percent rise, while imports fell 1.6 percent, versus a rise of 0.8 percent in April, the General Administration of Customs said.
The world's second-largest economy's trade surplus widened sharply to $35.9 billion in May from April's $18.5 billion, the customs office said.
That compared with market expectations in a Reuters poll of a 6.6 percent rise in exports, a 6.1 percent rise in imports and a monthly trade surplus of $22.6 billion.
"The data shows that the country's exports growth has returned to a normal level and will continue to improve," customs office spokesman Zheng Yuesheng told state television.
China's commerce ministry had predicted that the trade picture could brighten in May as base efforts fade and government support measures kick in.
Analysts have attributed the weak trade figures partly to an inflated comparison base with last year due to a rash of fake invoicing of exports to beat currency restrictions.
Authorities have cracked down on such activities since May of last year.
The pick-up in exports follows a batch of factory surveys for May that showed improvement in activity, as the government steps up targeted measures to support growth, including quickening construction of railways and public housing and loosening credit conditions for selected banks.
The government has also unveiled some policy support for the export sector, including offering quicker tax rebates for exporters and encouraging more high-tech equipment and consumer goods imports.
Analysts believe that China's property market could put downward pressure on growth even as global demand improves, as evidence mounts of a rapid cooling in what had been one of the few strong spots in the economy.
(Reporting by Kevin Yao; Editing by Paul Tait)