* IMF maintains China's 2018 economic growth forecast at 6.6 pct
* Sees risks from rapid credit growth and trade frictions
* Says natural and healthy for China to have defaults (Adds detail, comments and context)
BEIJING, May 30 (Reuters) - The International Monetary Fund kept its forecast for China's 2018 economic growth unchanged at 6.6 percent on Wednesday, but warned that overly rapid credit growth and trade frictions could pose risks for the world's second-largest economy.
China's economy grew 6.8 percent in the first quarter of 2018, slightly faster than expected, buoyed by strong consumer demand and surprisingly robust property investment.
Earlier in January, the IMF raised its forecast for China's economic growth this year to 6.6 percent from 6.5 percent. Beijing in March set a full-year growth target of around 6.5 percent.
Economists expect growth to slow to 6.5 percent this year from 6.9 percent in 2017, citing rising borrowing costs, tougher limits on industrial pollution and a crackdown on local government spending.
China should further rein in credit growth, said James Daniel, Mission Chief for China and Assistant Director of the Asia & Pacific Department at the IMF.
"There hasn't been any deleveraging in the real economy. Let's be clear of that. What has happened is the rate of increase of debt has slowed quite significantly," Daniel told reporters in Beijing, following a visit by an IMF team to Beijing and Shenzhen this month.
The government is in the third year of a regulatory crackdown on riskier lending practices, which has slowly pushed up borrowing costs and is pinching off alternative, murkier funding sources for companies such as shadow banking.
But even as Beijing cracks down on the country's credit risks, China has only seen a modest uptick in defaults so far.
"Now of course there's a risk that you go from very few defaults to quite a lot. And for a market and for investors that are not used to that, that can be pretty destabilising," he said.
"We do not see this. We see some uptick, very much contained and appropriate."
But it is only "natural" and "healthy" were there to be more defaults in China, because they are the best way to incentivise the market and allocate China's savings more efficiently, he said.
From the IMF's meetings with the government in the past weeks, regulators are very well aware of the risks and they have tools to address those if they materialise, Daniel said.
Trade frictions also pose a risk for China's economy, Alfred Schipke, senior resident representative at the IMF, told reporters, when asked about the impact of the ongoing tensions with the United States.
The United States said on Tuesday that it still held the threat of imposing tariffs on $50 billion of imports from China and would use it unless Beijing addressed the issue of theft of American intellectual property. (Reporting by Stella Qiu, Lusha Zhang and Ryan Woo; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)