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MYANMAR

Officials meet with Kachin rebels

YANGON | A Myanmar government delegation has held talks with representatives of a major ethnic rebel group with which it has had armed clashes since June, state-controlled media reported Thursday.

The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said the high-level delegation met Tuesday with six representatives of the Kachin Independence Organization, led by its chairman, Zaung Hara - also known as Zawng Hkra - in Ruili in China’s Yunnan province.

The report said both sides agreed at the meeting to continue the initial peace talks aimed at a cease-fire and political dialogues.

Myanmar for decades has been at odds with ethnic minorities living in border areas who seek greater autonomy. A military junta that took power in 1988 signed cease-fire agreements with many, including the Kachins, whose state is in the north.

In recent years, however, as the central government has sought to consolidate its power, some of the pacts have been strained, and sporadic warfare broke out with the Kachins in June as the government tried to break up some of their militia strongholds.

CHINA

Slowdown sparks scramble to shore up growth

SHANGHAI | China’s leaders are reversing their two-year effort to cool the economy, seeking to counter slowdowns in manufacturing and property that are dragging growth lower and threatening to spur unrest.

In the latest sign that the world’s No. 2 economy is weakening faster than thought, business surveys released Thursday showed manufacturing contracted in November for the first time in nearly three years.

That news came a day after Beijing moved to invigorate business activity by easing credit curbs, ending a long campaign to take some fizz out of the rapidly expanding economy.

China’s leaders had resisted easing lending curbs out of fear that opening the spigots might revive an outright investment boom and reignite inflation.

High living costs are risky for China’s communist leaders because they erode the economic gains that underpin the ruling party’s claim to power.

But slowing growth is another peril: Already news of labor unrest at factories in the south suggests that workers are being squeezed as exporters juggle tight credit and slowing demand.

The decision by the People’s Bank of China to reduce the amount of money that China’s commercial lenders must hold in reserve by 0.5 percent of their deposits “is a clear signal that Beijing now sees the balance of risks as lying with growth rather than inflation,” said Stephen Green, an economist with Standard Chartered in Shanghai.

JAPAN

Fourth extra budget to support economy

TOKYO | Japan’s prime minister said Thursday he will compile a fourth extra budget to support the nation’s economy amid the growing effects of a strong yen, flooding in Thailand and the eurozone crisis.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told a news conference that he has instructed Finance Minister Jun Azumi to begin compiling the additional budget for the fiscal year that ends in March.

The budget is aimed at addressing “the growing sense of uncertainty due to developments such as the high yen, flooding in Thailand and eurozone debt crisis,” he said.

Mr. Noda said the additional budget will not be funded by government bonds but rather through administrative cost-cutting. He did not elaborate on the size of a planned budget.

Mr. Noda’s government has passed three sets of supplementary budgets this year totaling about $231.7 billion to fund reconstruction projects in areas affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis.

TAIWAN

U.S. official makes rare stop in Taiwan

TAIPEI | The director of the U.S. Agency for International Development on Thursday became the highest-ranking American official to visit Taiwan since 2006, delighting the island’s government but possibly rankling China.

“We’re pleased to see the visit. As a matter of fact, we’ve been calling for more exchange of visits by ranking government officials from the two sides,” Taiwan’s foreign ministry spokesman, James Chang, told Agence France-Presse as USAID chief Rajiv Shah arrived on a two-day trip.

Mr. Shah is scheduled to meet President Ma Ying-jeou on Friday, according to a statement released by the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto U.S. embassy in Taipei.

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