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Asian stocks sink after Trump threatens more China tariffs

Asian stocks sank Wednesday after President Donald Trump threatened more tariff hikes on Chinese imports if talks aimed at ending a trade war fail to produce an interim agreement.

Market benchmarks in Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia all declined.

Trump said Tuesday agreement on the "Phase 1" deal announced last month "could happen soon." But he warned he was ready to raise tariffs "very substantially" if that fails.

Currency traders talk near the screens showing the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI), left, and the foreign exchange rate between U.S. dollar and South Korean won at the foreign exchange dealing room in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. Asian stocks sank Wednesday after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened more tariff hikes on Chinese imports if talks aimed at ending a trade war fail to produce an interim agreement. (AP PhotoLee Jin-man)

The two sides disagree publicly about whether Washington agreed to roll back some punitive tariffs imposed in the fight over Beijing's trade surplus and technology ambitions. The Chinese government said last week that was settled, but Trump denied that.

Trump's comments "served as a reminder of the challenge that the two sides face," said Jingyi Pan of IG in a report. However, she said, investors saw them as "positioning statements," reducing their impact.

Trump's comments did little to jolt Wall Street, which closed with modest gains.

A currency trader walks past in front of the screens showing the foreign exchange rates at the foreign exchange dealing room in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. Asian stocks sank Wednesday after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened more tariff hikes on Chinese imports if talks aimed at ending a trade war fail to produce an interim agreement. (AP PhotoLee Jin-man)

The Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.4% to 2,905.06 and Tokyo's Nikkei 225 sank 0.9% to 23,3154.90. Hong Kong's Hang Seng tumbled 2% to 26,511.11.

South Korea's Kospi retreated 0.9% to 2,123.74 and Australia's S&P-ASX 200 sank 0.8% lower at 6,698.30. India's Sensex opened down 25 points at 40,319.59. Taiwan, New Zealand and Singapore also declined.

Hong Kong shares have been jolted by growing violence in the anti-government protests. Police shot a protester in a scuffle Monday and a man who was defending China in an apparent argument was set on fire. Activists also this week have damaged trains and transit stations while clashing with police using tear gas and other crowd control measures.

Currency traders talk near the screens showing the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) at the foreign exchange dealing room in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. Asian stocks sank Wednesday after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened more tariff hikes on Chinese imports if talks aimed at ending a trade war fail to produce an interim agreement. (AP PhotoLee Jin-man)

The protests began in June over an extradition bill that was subsequently withdrawn, but the movement expanded to demands for greater democracy, police accountability and other grievances. The protests, the U.S.-China tariff war and economic factors have sent Hong Kong tumbling into its first recession in a decade.

On Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 index rose past the 3,100 level for the first time, but the gains didn't hold. The index ended up 0.2% at 3,091.84.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed unchanged at 27,691.49. The Nasdaq gained 0.3% to a record 8,486.09.

Momentum for the market has been mostly upward for more than five weeks as worries about the U.S.-China trade war have eased, among other factors.

Health care, technology and communication services stocks led gains Tuesday, outweighing losses in energy companies and elsewhere.

This week, the U.S. Labor Department is due to give updates on consumer and wholesale inflation. Economists expect a government report to show retail sales returned to growth in October.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is due to give testimony to Congress on Wednesday about the U.S. economy. Most investors expect the Fed to keep interest rates on hold for now after cutting them three times since the summer.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude lost 25 cents to $56.56 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 6 cents on Tuesday to close at $56.80. Brent crude, used to price international oils, shed 29 cents to $61.77 per barrel in London. It retreated 12 cents to $62.06 the previous session.

CURRENCY: The dollar gained to 109.06 yen from Tuesday's 109.01 yen. The euro advanced to $1.1013 from $1.1010.