Asia Pacific stocks traded mixed on Wednesday as investors kept a close watch on the Chinese yuan amid an escalating trade dispute between the U.S. and China.
The People's Bank of China (PBOC) set the the official midpoint reference for the yuan at 6.9996 per dollar, which was slightly weaker than market expectations. China's central bank allows the exchange rate to rise or fall 2% from that number.
Mainland Chinese shares declined on the day: The Shanghai composite shed 0.32% to about 2,768.68, the Shenzhen component fell 0.5% to 8,814.74 and the Shenzhen composite fell 0.427% to around 1,483.95.
The Japanese benchmark Nikkei 225 slipped 0.33% to close at 20,516.56, with index heavyweight and robot maker Fanuc shedding 1.56%. The Topix index, on the other hand, finished the trading day in Tokyo slightly higher at 1,499.93.
SoftBank Group shares slid 0.23%. After market close, the Japanese conglomerate reported quarterly operating income for the three months that ended June 30: It fell 3.7% on-year to 688.8 billion yen ($6.49 billion) but it still beat analysts' expectations. Operating income from SoftBank's Saudi-backed Vision Fund and Delta Fund rose almost 66% to 397.6 billion yen for the quarter.
South Korea's Kospi closed 0.41% lower at 1,909.71 as shares of industry heavyweight Samsung Electronics slipped 0.69%. Over in Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 ended its trading day 0.64% higher at 6,519.50.
In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index fell 0.14%, as of its final hour of trading. Hong Kong-listed shares of Chinese electric vehicle maker BYD dropped more than 5% after the company reported that its July sales volume fell about 17% compared to a year earlier. The firm's Shenzhen-listed shares slipped 1.11%.
Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index was lower by 0.05%.
The yuan broke a closely watched level of 7 against the dollar on Monday, sending markets across the globe into a frenzy and leading the U.S. Treasury Department to label China as a currency manipulator.
For its part, the PBOC rejected the U.S. Treasury's claims on Tuesday, saying that the "United States disregards the facts and unreasonably affixes China with the label of 'currency manipulators,' which is a behavior that harms others and oneself."
Markets are "still grappling with the escalation in trade tension as the yuan depreciated through the key level of 7 to the (dollar), and the US labelled China a currency manipulator," analysts from ANZ Research wrote in a morning note.
The Chinese central bank's "stronger-than-expected fixing of the yuan yesterday and reiteration that it won't seek to competitive depreciate, helped stabilise markets," the ANZ analysts added.
Those moves came after U.S. President Donald Trump unexpectedly announced late last week that fresh tariffs would be slapped on additional Chinese exports from Sept. 1, intensifying the trade war between Beijing and Washington.
"The decision by (Chinese President) Xi Jinping to allow the (yuan) to dip a little bit is the Chinese equivalent of a tweet," Daniel Russel, former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Wednesday.
"It's a signal to the U.S., it's a signal to Donald Trump. It says: 'Hey if you want to fight you're gonna take a few punches,'" Russel added. "China's not gonna rollover, China's a big country, a big economy and it politically simply won't allow itself to be bullied."
The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 97.583, declining from an earlier high of 97.851.
The New Zealand dollar dived more than 1.5% to change hands at $0.6404 after the country's reserve bank surprised markets and slashed its official cash rate by 50 basis points, to an all-time low of 1%.
The Indian rupee traded about 0.5% higher at 70.683 against the dollar, with the Reserve Bank of India cutting rates by 35 basis points on Wednesday.
Oil prices slipped in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, as international benchmark Brent crude futures declined 0.37% to $58.72 per barrel. U.S. crude futures also fell 0.21% to $53.52 per barrel.