Some Asian markets recovered in late-afternoon trade on Monday as news emerged that the United States agreed to exempt South Korea from steel tariffs.
That followed a global sell-off late last week amid fears that rising tensions between the U.S. and China could lead to a full-blown trade war. Even in morning trade on Monday, most Asian markets struggled for gains.
In Australia, the benchmark ASX 200 closed down 30.20 points, or 0.52 percent, at 5,790.50. The heavily weighted financial sector was down 0.84 percent.
Major banking stocks in the country fell — shares of ANZ declined 0.65 percent, Commonwealth Bank was down 1.09 percent and the National Australia Bank dropped 0.66 percent. Westpac shares were down 0.62 percent.
In Japan, the retraced losses to climb late in the trading session, closing up 148.24 points, or 0.72 percent, at 20,766.10. The Topix index rose 6.38 points, or 0.38 percent, to 1,671.32.
Across the Korean Strait, the Kospi climbed 20.32 points, or 0.84 percent, to 2,437.08.
Reuters reported that the U.S. agreed to exempt South Korea from steel tariffs and instead would impose a quota on steel imports. In return, South Korea said it would improve access for U.S. carmakers under the bilateral trade agreement deal known as the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement.
Elsewhere, Chinese mainland markets finished mixed, with the composite down 18.83 points, or 0.6 percent, at 3,133.92 while the Shenzhen composite rose 23.74 points, or 1.34 percent, to 1,790.35.
In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index erased losses to climb 239.48 points, or 0.79 percent, to 30,548.77.
Beijing on Friday said it may target 128 U.S. products with an import value of $3 billion in response to President Donald Trump's executive order earlier this month that imposed broad duties on foreign aluminum and steel imports.
Trump had also announced tariff plans for up to $60 billion in Chinese imports, although China did not officially connect its Friday threats of retaliation to that White House action.
On Saturday, some of the world's top economists and business leaders at the China Development Forum in Beijing warned about the risks of a trade war between the two economic powerhouses. Nobel-prize winning economists Robert Shiller and Joseph Stiglitz predicted pain ahead for the U.S. economy if Beijing and Washington ramp up tit-for-tat trade penalties.
Still, Michael Froman, who served as U.S. Trade Representative during President 's second term in the White House, told CNBC that the Trump administration's concerns about China were "legitimate."
One market commentator said there was "clearly a fair amount of damage done" from the week's developments, after markets sold off in Asia, Europe and the United States.
"Whether this is the sole cause of latest risk market ructions is debatable," Ray Attrill, head of foreign exchange strategy at the National Australia Bank, wrote in a morning note. He added that others were suggesting confidence in continued strong synchronized global growth may be slipping, following disappointing economic data.
He added that "rising geopolitical tension" should also be noted, following the tapping of John Bolton to be Trump's new national security advisor.
"This has heightened concerns that Trump will formally repudiate the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that Bolton is on record as saying was a mistake," Attrill said.
In the currency market, the traded around 89.333 at 3:48 p.m. HK/SIN, falling from levels above 90 in the previous week.
Among currency majors, the Japanese yen traded at 105.1 to the dollar, weakening from an earlier high of 104.55.
A relatively weak yen is usually a positive for exporters because it increases their overseas profits when converted into the local currency.
Analysts at Singapore's DBS Bank said in a morning note that risk aversion is likely to persist in the markets amid the U.S.-China trade tensions.
"As long as Washington and Beijing keep up their tit-for-tat trade war rhetoric and actions, safe haven play is likely to drive the Japanese yen stronger against the euro and the Australian dollar," they said in the note.