Chinese Vice Premier Liu He is due in Washington for fresh talks aimed at heading off a trade war with the United States

Hong Kong (AFP) - Asian markets mostly fell on Tuesday as trade issues returned to the spotlight with China and the US holding more high-level talks this week, while oil prices held gains as tensions in the Middle East simmer.

A run-up in equities over the past week has also led to profit-taking, with Hong Kong hit after six straight days of gains.

US markets rose again as Chinese Vice Premier Liu He – President Xi Jinping’s right-hand man on economic issues – headed to Washington on Tuesday for a new round of talks aimed at heading off a trade war between the economic giants.

There are hopes the two sides can hammer out an agreement to end a dispute that has seen both sides threaten tariffs on billions of dollars of goods.

Donald Trump’s call to help get Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE “back into business fast” soothed nerves, while Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Monday he was exploring “alternative remedies” for the firm, which was in April banned from buying crucial US technology for seven years.

“China is reportedly close to removing tariffs on agricultural products in exchange for relief for ZTE,” said Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trade at OANDA. “It helps explain why President Trump said he’d work with President Xi on this company.”

The talks come as US officials try to reach agreements with Canada and Mexico on revising their three-way trade pact, while EU steel tariff exemptions are due to end on June 1.

- ‘Hornet’s nest’ -

Hong Kong closed 1.2 percent lower after racking up gains of more than five percent over the previous six sessions, while Tokyo ended 0.2 percent down.

Sydney shed 0.6 percent, Singapore fell 0.4 percent and Seoul sank 0.7 percent, with Wellington, Taipei, Bangkok and Jakarta also lower.

However, there were gains in Manila and Kuala Lumpur.

And Shanghai rose 0.6 percent as global index compiler MSCI said 234 mainland shares would be on a final list to be included in its flagship index from next month. The big-cap shares, from banking giant ICBC to oil major PetroChina, will account for 0.39 percent of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.

But analysts said gains were capped as investors have already bought these shares in anticipation of the June inclusion.

Mumbai’s Sensex jumped 0.5 percent as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP looked on course to win a key state election just a year before national polls.

Concerns about the already tinderbox Middle East have helped put upward pressure on oil prices, with deadly clashes in Gaza during the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem coming less than a week after Trump ripped up the Iran nuclear deal.

“In general, the market is wholly focused on the hornet’s nest in the Middle East that is an accident waiting to happen,” Innes added.

While both main crude contracts dipped marginally Tuesday, they are still at highs not seen since November 2014, with economic uncertainty in major producer Venezuela also playing a key role.

The increase in oil prices is helping fan inflation expectations in the United States, which has fuelled to talk that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates three more times this year.

The dollar climbed against its major peers, with the euro weighed by data showing the German economy grew much more slowly than expected at the start of the year.

And most high-yielding currencies were well down, led by the South Korean won, Mexican peso and Indonesian rupiah.

In early European trade London and Paris each fell 0.2 percent while Frankfurt shed 0.3 percent.

- Key figures around 0810 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.2 percent at 22,818.02 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 1.2 percent at 31,152.03 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.6 percent at 3,192.12 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.2 percent at 7,694.27

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1922 from $1.1931 at 2100 GMT

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3529 from $1.3556

Dollar/yen: UP at 109.92 yen from 109.65 yen

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: DOWN nine cents at $70.87

Oil - Brent North Sea: DOWN two cents at $78.21 per barrel

New York - Dow: UP 0.3 percent at 24,899.41 (close)