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* SSEC +1.6 pct, CSI300 +1.4 pct, HSI +1.5 pct
* China, U.S. trade negotiators discuss "key issues" on Tuesday
* More wriggle room for small firms' bad loans - media report
HONG KONG, March 12 (Reuters) - China shares rose on Tuesday, buoyed by investors' expectations of more stimulus to cushion any downturn, amid renewed optimism that Beijing and Washington would hammer out a deal soon.
** At the midday break, the Shanghai Composite index was up 1.61 percent at 3,075.69. China's blue-chip CSI300 index rose 1.42 percent.
** CSI300's financial sector sub-index rose 1.5 percent, the consumer staples sector climbed 1 percent, and healthcare shares rose 0.7 percent.
** Chinese H-shares listed in Hong Kong rose 1.9 percent, while the Hang Seng Index climbed 1.5 percent to 28,919.06 points.
** The smaller Shenzhen index was up 1.9 percent and the start-up board ChiNext Composite index was higher by 2.8 percent.
** Chinese Vice Premier Liu He held a telephone call with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on key issues in their trade talks on Tuesday, Xinhua reported in early trade. The two sides set the next steps in "working arrangements," said the Chinese state news agency said, without elaborating.
** The phone call came one day after White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said China and the United States have not confirmed a date for a summit between presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, at which the leaders are expected to finalize a pact that would end a months-long trade war.
** China may increase its tolerance for non-performing loans at small companies in order to help spur their growth, the state-backed Securities Times newspaper quoted a senior official from the banking regulator as saying on Tuesday.
** China's automobile sales fell 13.8 percent in February from the same month a year earlier, according to data released on Monday, marking the eighth consecutive month of decline.
** Economic headwinds could weigh on share prices, prolong the wait for policy-inspired gains, Cheng Yimin, chief analyst at China Post Securities, wrote in a note on Tuesday.
** "The market's ability to recover is limited and could possibly dip again in the medium term," said Cheng. "In the long run, the backdrop of policy (support) is clear, valuations are at historic lows there is a fairly good foundation for valuations to expand."
** Around the region, MSCI's Asia ex-Japan stock index rose 1.2 percent, while Japan's Nikkei index rallied 2.1 percent.
** The Shanghai stock index is above its 50-day moving average and above its 200-day moving average.
** At midday, China's A-shares were trading at a premium of 22.39 percent over the Hong Kong-listed H-shares.
** The largest percentage gainers in the main Shanghai Composite index were JiShi Media Co Ltd, Huayi Electric Co Ltd and Henan Ancai Hi-tech Co Ltd, all up by 10.1 percent.
** In Hong Kong, the sub-index of the Hang Seng index tracking energy shares rose 1.7 percent, while the IT sector gained 0.5 percent.
(Reporting by Noah Sin, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)