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Asian Stocks decrease after Lighthizer comments, India-Pakistan Conflict

Several Asian markets saw a decrease in stocks on Thursday after comments given by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in testimony to lawmakers dented hopes for a trade agreement with China in the immediate future.

Speaking before the House Ways and Means Committee, Lighthizer confirmed the delay in implementing the increase in tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports which were originally scheduled for Saturday. However, he spoke with caution in discussing the possibility of actually striking a deal with China which he said would cover commitments to structural economic reform. The commitments include market liberalization, reigning in state subsidies, and the ending of technology theft and intellectual property transfer as well as currency manipulation.

Lighthizer added that striking a deal won’t be a one-off event, and stressed that complaints regarding China’s commitments would be held monthly for low-ranking officials while quarterly meetings would be held for vice-ministers and exchanges held semi-annually for cabinet officials.

Asian markets showed mixed responses a day after Lighthizer’s testimony, with equities across the region experiencing moderate losses and others rising barely.

Japan’s Nikkei Index fell 74.85 points on Thursday morning after increasing by 0.48 percent earlier in the week. Likewise, the country’s Topix Index saw a decrease of .33 percent to 1,615.02 points. Meanwhile, the Japanese yen rose 0.1 percent.

In South Korea, the Kospi decreased by 0.36 percent after closing on a four-month high on Wednesday. Despite this, the country’s benchmark bond yield increased while the Korean won only fell slightly.

The Australian stock market remained largely flat with the S&P/ASX 200 Index adding five points after rising 0.096 percent. A slight decline was seen in the currency market, however, with the Australian dollar falling to 0.71 cents against the U.S. dollar.
Hong Kong’s stock market showed a similar trend with the Hang Seng Index rising 0.065 percent to 28,776.21.

Meanwhile, the Shanghai Composite Index fell to 2,932.60 points after some gains made earlier in the day.

Besides scrutiny on the ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China, escalating tensions between India and Pakistan have also contributed to fluctuations in Asian markets.
On Wednesday, Pakistan claimed to have shot down Indian Air Force jets and captured two pilots, a day after India declared the launching of airstrikes on Pakistani territory and shooting down a Pakistani jet in the process.

Tensions between the two neighboring countries began on February 14, after Pakistani militants instigated a suicide bombing in Kashmir which killed 40 Indian paramilitary soldiers.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan responded to the recent incident in a televised speech on Wednesday by pushing for talks with the Indian government to solve the ongoing conflict.

“I ask India: With the weapons you have and the weapons we have, can we really afford a miscalculation?” he said. “I repeat that better sense should prevail. We should sit down and have a dialogue to resolve the issues.”