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Chinese tabloid says assess N.Korea trade 'fairly', after Trump tweet

BEIJING, July 7 (Reuters) - A jump in first-quarter trade between China and North Korea was "unexpected" and masks a declining longer-term trend, a state-run Chinese tabloid said on Friday, after U.S. President Donald Trump denounced China's trade with its isolated neighbour.

Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40 percent in the first quarter, Trump said on social network Twitter on Wednesday, casting doubt on Beijing's claim to be working to counter the North Korean nuclear threat.

"First quarter data cannot speak for the whole year," the paper said in an editorial. "The trade volume for 2017 is unlikely to grow significantly from last year."

Data released in April by Beijing showed China's trade with North Korea grew 37.4 percent in the first quarter over the corresponding 2016 period, the Global Times said, adding that subsequent data showed declining trade in April and May.

While the first-quarter rise was "somewhat unexpected", the tabloid said Beijing had been strictly implementing United Nations sanctions against Pyongyang, and that a ban on imports of North Korean coal had taken a toll on two-way trade.

The newspaper said trade between China and North Korea had declined during the previous three years.

China has not imported North Korean coal since Beijing banned imports of the fuel on Feb. 18, the General Administration of Customs said in April.

The tabloid, published by the official People's Daily, reiterated that sanctions should not affect normal trade activities with Pyongyang, especially those concerning people's livelihoods.

"America's public opinion mistakenly depicts UN sanctions on Pyongyang's nuclear and missile activities as a total embargo," it said, citing a four-fold increase in China's grain exports to North Korea in the first quarter.

"Beijing will never export materials to Pyongyang that could be used for nuclear and missile activities."

It also urged China and the United States to communicate further on the sanctions on North Korea and "narrow down their divergences".

Neither the commerce ministry nor the foreign affairs ministry responded immediately to a request for comment about the Global Times article. (Reporting by Yawen Chen and Tony Munroe; Additional reporting by Josephine Mason and Christian Shepherd in Beijing; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)