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Asia: Markets sink as the Chinese yuan tumbles

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[HONG KONG] Asian markets plummeted on Monday as the Chinese yuan fell sharply, days after US President Donald Trump's vow to impose fresh tariffs on goods from China sent trade war fears soaring.

Trump's announcement, which came on Thursday, means virtually all of the US$660 billion in annual merchandise trade between the world's two biggest economies will be subject to punitive tariffs, with the latest duties due to take effect September 1.

The news saw all three major Wall Street indices slump to their lowest levels since June, with the S&P 500 and Nasdaq recording their worst weekly losses of 2019 on Friday.

In China, the yuan dropped to its lowest level to the dollar since August 2010, fuelling speculation that Beijing was devaluing its currency to support exporters and offset Mr Trump's latest threat to hit US$300 billion in Chinese goods with 10 per cent tariffs.

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The US leader regularly accuses the Chinese central bank of artificially weakening the yuan - charges long denied by Beijing.

The onshore yuan tumbled to 7.0307 against the dollar - its lowest level since 2008 - while the more freely traded offshore yuan tumbled to 7.1085, breaching the 7.0 level which investors see as a key threshold in currency value.

Multiple rounds of tit-for-tat tariffs between the world's top two economies have already battered trade, with China's American imports shrinking 30 per cent in the first half of the year.

Beijing has vowed to hit back if Washington goes ahead with its latest threat, while news that demand for US exports had weakened underscored concern that trade was becoming a trouble spot for economies worldwide.

'A LOT MESSIER' 

"China is likely to drag out their response and retaliate in many ways against the US trade measures," warned Edward Moya, senior market analyst at Oanda.

Although negotiators from both nations are expected to reconvene in Washington in early September for another round of talks after last week's discussions in Shanghai, investors remain nervous, Mr Moya said.

"Financial markets are still working on pricing in a complete collapse of trade talks amongst the Chinese and Americans," he said.

"The base case still remains for a deal to get done, but talks are likely to get a lot messier before we see anything... that resembles a deal."

The yuan's depreciation spurred a sell-off across Asian markets, with Hong Kong losing more than three percent as pro-democracy protesters targeted the financial hub's transport network, launching a city-wide strike aimed at forcing concessions from its embattled pro-Beijing government.

Tokyo and Seoul shed 2.4 per cent while Shanghai fell 0.8 per cent. Singapore dropped 1.9 per cent while Taipei and Bangkok were also down.

AFP