BEIJING (Reuters) - A jump in first-quarter trade between China and North Korea was "unexpected" and masks a declining trend, a state-run Chinese newspaper 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 Twitter on Wednesday, casting doubt on China's assertion it is working to press North Korea to rein in its nuclear and missile programmes.
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.
"First quarter data cannot speak for the whole year," the paper said in an editorial that carried the headline "China-NK Q1 trade data must be read fairly".
"The trade volume for 2017 is unlikely to grow significantly from last year," it said.
While the first-quarter rise was "somewhat unexpected", the newspaper said China had been strictly implementing U.N. sanctions against North Korea, and that a ban on imports of its 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 it banned imports of the fuel on Feb. 18, the General Administration of Customs said in April.
The Global Times, published by the official People's Daily, reiterated that sanctions should not affect normal trade activities with North Korea, especially those concerning people's livelihoods.
"America's public opinion mistakenly depicts U.N. 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".
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, referred questions on the trade figures to the Commerce Ministry, and reiterated that as neighbours, China and North Korea had "normal" trade relations.
China also fully enforced U.N. resolutions on North Korea, Geng told a daily news briefing.
China's Commerce Ministry did not respond to a request for comment about the Global Times article.
Reporting by Yawen Chen and Tony Munroe; Additional reporting by Josephine Mason, Ben Blanchard and Christian Shepherd; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel