Top US economic officials travel to Beijing this week for the third round of talks on Thursday and Friday, where preparatory talks among deputies were due to start Monday (NICOLAS ASFOURI)

Hong Kong (AFP) – Asian stocks saw gains Monday as US and Chinese officials in Beijing geared up for crunch trade talks aimed at averting fresh tariff escalations.

Mainland Chinese markets reopened higher after the week-long Lunar New Year break despite a series of bearish global growth forecasts, with investor focus squarely on efforts to tackle the trade row.

Top US economic officials will travel to the Chinese capital this week for the third round of talks on Thursday and Friday, but deputies had already arrived and the White House said preparatory discussions were due to begin Monday.

Failure to agree a deal between the two economic superpowers before March 1 would see punitive US duties on $200 billion in Chinese goods more than double.

“There’s a sense of urgency to this round,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA.

“If no deal is agreed by then, a belligerent President Trump and US Congress will be more than willing to simply extend the trade war so China will need to make the first move if they are to reach a detente,” he added.

Analysts say imposition of the tariffs could weaken the global economy.

US President Donald Trump said last week he does not expect to meet his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping before the deadline expires, quashing some optimism.

But Asian tech stocks tracked a small positive lead on Nasdaq Friday.

Hong Kong was up 0.6 percent in the afternoon session, with social media and gaming giant Tencent seeing healthy gains, along with smartphone component makers such as Sunny Optical Technology and AAC Technologies.

Macau casino shares were also buoyant after strong tourism numbers over the New Year holiday.

Shanghai, reopening after a weeklong break, rose 1.4 percent. Seoul edged up 0.2 percent, but Sydney shed 0.2 percent. Jakarta, Manila and Singapore also posted losses.

Tokyo was closed for a holiday.

– Storm clouds –

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund warned governments to prepare for a possible economic “storm” as growth forecasts dip.

It cited the trade row as one of four “clouds” overshadowing the global economy, along with Brexit uncertainty, the accelerated slowdown in China and financial tightening.

“The bottom-line — we see an economy that is growing more slowly than we had anticipated,” IMF managing director Christine Lagarde told the World Government Summit in Dubai at the weekend.

The EU, Britain and Australia all slashed growth forecasts late last week.

Adding to market trepidation is the spectre of a repeat of the 35-day partial US government shutdown that ended January 25 — the longest in the country’s history.

Key Republican negotiator Richard Shelby blamed Democrats for another impasse over immigration at the weekend, in talks that have been defined by Trump’s demand for funds for a border wall.

Oil prices continued to tumble with growing oversupply fears linked to record US shale output, with both main contracts posting losses.

– Key figures around 0710 GMT –

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 0.6 percent at 28,110.29

Shanghai – Composite: UP 1.4 percent at 2,653.90 (close)

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: Closed for a public holiday

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1326 from $1.1325 at 2200 GMT Friday

Dollar/yen: UP at 109.98 yen from 109.72 yen

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2934 from $1.2937

Oil – West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 49 cents at $52.23 per barrel

Oil – Brent Crude: DOWN 24 cents at $61.86 per barrel

New York – Dow: DOWN 0.3 percent at 25,106.33 (close)

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.3 percent at 7,071.18 (close)

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