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Asia markets tread water as investors keep an eye on China's Party Congress

Key Points
  • Asian shares were stable
  • China's 19th Party Congress began
  • Rio Tinto charged by U.S. SEC with fraud
  • The dollar index extended overnight gains

Stocks in Asia closed narrowly mixed on Wednesday as investors in the region looked to China's Party Congress for signs on future policy direction in the world's second-largest economy.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 index closed higher for a 12th straight session after tacking on 0.13 percent, or 26.93 points, to finish the session at 21,363.05. Major exporters were mixed: Mitsubishi Motor closed down 1.32 percent, Nissan rose 0.09 percent and SoftBank Group declined 0.51 percent.

Across the Korean Strait, the Kospi reversed early gains and slid 0.06 percent to close at 2,482.91 as gains made by automakers were offset by falls in blue-chip tech names.

Down Under, the S&P/ASX 200 edged up 0.02 percent to end at 5,890.5, with the utilities sub-index leading gains and rising 1.21 percent. Telecommunications stocks traded lower on the day.

Greater China markets were stable as the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China commenced in Beijing. Hong Kong's was off 0.04 percent by 3:12 p.m. HK/SIN. On the mainland, the advanced 0.28 percent to close at 3,381.3691 and the Shenzhen Composite lost 0.396 percent to end at 2,000.1097.

Singapore and Malaysia markets are closed for a public holiday.

Asia-Pacific Market Indexes Chart

Markets kept an eye on developments in China as the country's 19th Party Congress began. Although past iterations of the meeting have proven opaque, investors attempted to look for signs on how Beijing might tackle issues such as its debt problem and industrial over-capacity.

During his nearly 3.5-hour address at the event on Wednesday, President Xi Jinping highlighted achievements made by China in recent years, but acknowledged challenges that remained ahead. Xi also pledged there would be greater market access in the services sector and more extensive economic reforms.

The yuan was little changed on the day, with the onshore yuan trading at 6.6211 to the greenback at 3:09 p.m. HK/SIN. The offshore yuan traded at 6.6183 per dollar. The People's Bank of China had fixed the yuan midpoint a touch softer than the previous session at 6.5991 per dollar.

Ahead, key data from the world's second-largest economy, including September industrial production and third-quarter GDP numbers, are due on Oct. 19.

Meanwhile, the U.S. currency extended gains after rising to its highest levels in a week overnight as markets speculated over President Donald Trump's choice of a candidate to succeed Janet Yellen as Federal Reserve Chair.

Stanford University economist John Taylor, regarded by market watchers as more hawkish than Yellen, is currently seen as a front-runner, according to media reports. Trump is expected to make his decision early in November.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six currencies, stood at 93.570 at 3:07 p.m. HK/SIN after touching as high as 93.729 overnight. Against the yen, the greenback was a touch firmer at 112.43, above the 112.18 level seen Tuesday.

Elsewhere, the Bank of England was in the spotlight after U.K. inflation rose 3 percent in September, its fastest pace since 2012. Investors are watching the central bank's next meeting in November after BoE Governor Mark Carney indicated last month that interest rates could increase in coming months.

On Wall Street, U.S. stocks broadly rose on strong earnings reports. The Dow Jones industrial average touched the 23,000 mark for the first time on Tuesday before closing up 0.18 percent, or 40.48 points, on the day at 22,997.44.

In corporate news, Rio Tinto was charged with fraud by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Reuters reported. The mining company had allegedly inflated the price of assets in Mozambique, Reuters said. Rio Tinto said in a statement that it would "vigorously defend itself" against the "unwarranted" case brought by the SEC. Shares of the miner traded in Australia closed down 0.76 percent.

Meanwhile, ANZ Bank New Zealand said John Key, the former prime minister of New Zealand, would be the new chair of its board of directors after current Chair John Judge retires in January 2018. ANZ shares finished the session just 0.03 percent over the flat line.

On the energy front, oil prices strengthened after a choppy session on Tuesday. Investor worries over supply due to geopolitical tensions in Iraq and a drop in U.S. crude stockpiles overnight kept prices elevated. Brent crude futures added 0.67 percent to trade at $58.27 a barrel and U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude advanced 0.42 percent to trade at $52.10.

— CNBC's Huileng Tan contributed to this report.