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Asia: Markets mixed but trade standoff back in spotlight

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Asian markets were mixed on Friday but about the China-US trade talks returned to the fore after a report said Beijing officials had raised doubts about the chances of a long-term deal.

[HONG KONG] Asian markets were mixed on Friday but about the China-US trade talks returned to the fore after a report said Beijing officials had raised doubts about the chances of a long-term deal.

Investors were also spooked by a speech by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in which he called China "truly hostile" to the US, leading Beijing to accuse the White House of "viciously" attacking it.

The flare up comes just as the two sides put the finishing touches to a mini trade pact that seen as the first phase of a wider agreement, with top-level phone talks due to take place later Friday.

Recent signs of progress on the long-running dispute had provided some much-needed support to equity markets in recent weeks, with most markets posting some healthy gains.

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Wall Street, where the S&P 500 had hit a record high Wednesday, turned lower after Bloomberg News reported that Chinese officials were sceptical they would be able to reach a comprehensive long-term deal.

It said they warned they would not budge on key issues, while they were also concerned about Donald Trump's impulsiveness and were even worried about the chances of getting the current agreement finished.

"The article proved a not-too-subtle reminder of how quickly trade war sentiment can pivot and highlighting those fears that we all knew about but were perhaps was too wrapped up (in) the phase one euphoria to recognise," said AxiTrader's Stephen Innes.

"Specifically, the trust gap is the bridge too far and what's going on behind the shiny veneer of an apparent trade detente, the thorny Hong Kong protest bill," he added, referring to US lawmakers passing a bill defending civil rights in the financial hub.

US JOBS IN FOCUS 

And National Australia Bank's Ray Attrill added that expectations would be low for anything past phase one being agreed ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

"Yet some market participants evidently held the view that passage of phase one could quickly lead to progress on Phase Two next year," he said.

Also on Thursday, Mr Pompeo hit out at China's clampdown on Hong Kong protests and incarceration of Uighur Muslims, and said Beijing was seeking international domination. China responded by accusing the US of "arrogance and fear".

Asian markets started in negative territory but saw some bounce as the morning wore on.

Hong Kong rose 0.4 per cent as dealers brushed off a much-sharper-than-expected dive in third quarter economic growth as the city is battered by the trade war and months of sometimes violent protests that have hammered its tourism and retail sectors.

Shanghai rose 0.2 per cent, Seoul added 0.5 per cent and Sydney edged up 0.1 per cent.

However, Tokyo and Singapore each retreated 0.4 per cent, while Wellington and Jakarta were also lower.

Attention now turns to the release later in the day of US jobs figures, which will give a fresh idea about the state of the US economy.

They come days after the Federal Reserve cut interest rates for a third straight month but hinted it would not likely do so again this year as it assesses the growth outlook.

Oil prices edged up slightly, having tumbled more than one per cent Thursday on the trade talks fears as well as another jump in US stockpiles.

AFP