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Asian Shares Advance As China Pledges Policy Support

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Asian shares finished broadly higher on Friday after U.K. lawmakers backed delaying the Brexit process and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged support for the slowing economy during his annual news conference at the end of the National People's Congress.

China's Shanghai Composite Index rallied 31.07 points or 1 percent to 3,021.75 as Li said the country could use reserve requirements and interest rates to prevent a sharper deceleration in the world's second-largest economy. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index rose 160.87 points or 0.6 percent to 29,012.26.

Japanese shares advanced to end two days of declines. The Nikkei 225 Index climbed 163.83 points or 0.8 percent to 21,450.85 after the Bank of Japan left its monetary stimulus program unchanged, as widely expected but offered a relatively weak assessment of the economy. The broader Topix closed 0.9 percent higher at 1,602.63.

A weaker yen helped lift export stocks, with Canon, Honda Motor and Toyota rising between 0.6 percent and 1.1 percent. Tokyo Electron surged up 2.8 percent after Broadcom posted better than expected first quarter results.

Descente jumped 2.7 percent after trading house Itochu Corp. said it has acquired a 40 percent stake in the sportswear maker. Shares of Itochu gained 0.7 percent.

Machinery maker Komatsu jumped 1.8 percent and robot maker Fanuc added 1.4 percent on hopes of Chinese stimulus.

Meanwhile, Australian markets ended marginally lower in thin trading, dragged down by financials and mining companies. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index edged down 4.40 points or 0.1 percent to 6,175.20.

ANZ dropped 1 percent as Morgan Stanley downgraded its rating and price target on the stock. Commonwealth shed 0.8 percent and Westpac declined half a percent, while NAB rose 0.6 percent.

Mining heavyweight BHP fell 1.8 percent and smaller rival Fortescue Metals Group dropped 1.2 percent as copper prices drifted lower on weak China industrial output data released the previous day.

Seoul stocks rose as investors watched global trade issues and developments on the Brexit front. The benchmark Kospi rallied 20.43 points or 1 percent to 2,176.11.

Tech heavyweight Samsung Electronics gained 0.8 percent and SK Hynix jumped 1.2 percent. Mobile carrier SK Telecom advanced 2.8 percent after launching its 5G Mobile Edge Computing Open Platform.

On the other hand, Samsung Biologics, which is under investigation for suspected violation of accounting rules, slumped 4.2 percent.

New Zealand shares advanced, with the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 Index rising 37.77 points or 0.4 percent to 9,473.27. Consumer staple stocks ended mixed, with heavyweight A2 Milk losing 2 percent, while Synlait Milk rallied 3.4 percent.

Overnight, U.S. stocks ended mixed amid reports that a meeting between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping has been pushed back until at least April.

The report from Bloomberg came after Trump told reporters on Wednesday that he is in "no rush" to complete a trade deal with China.

The Dow inched up marginally, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite slipped 0.2 percent and the S&P 500 edged down 0.1 percent.

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