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Japan Opens Free Trade Talks with ASEAN

Japan has opened free trade talks with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, while Hong Kong's airport operator invests in one of China's busiest airports.

Japan and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have started talks on a free trade agreement in Tokyo, with the aim of establishing a free trade zone by 2012.

Analysts say an agreement would help Japan maintain its economic dominance in the region, as rival China expects to reach a similar agreement with the regional grouping as early as 2010.

In Hong Kong, the city's Airport Authority has bought a 35 percent stake in an airport in eastern China for $250 million. The Airport Authority will jointly manage the Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport (in Zhejiang province), China's 10th busiest airport.

David Pang, chief executive officer of the Hong Kong Airport Authority, says as Hangzhou airport grows, it will bring long-term benefits to Hong Kong.

Hangzhou airport has seen a rapid increase in passengers in recent years.

Also in Hong Kong, the luxury property market appears to be soaring. Sun Hung Kai Properties says it sold a penthouse apartment overlooking the city's famous harbor for $4,000 per square foot. This is a record for the Hong Kong property market, which has been struggling to rebound since a downturn in the mid-1990s.

Elsewhere, an Australian court has sentenced two top officials of what was once the country's second largest insurer, HIH Insurance, to four-and-a-half years in jail each. Former managing director Rodney Adler and chief executive Ray Williams were found to have mismanaged the company and lied about its finances.

HIH's collapse in 2001 - because of $4 billion of debt - was Australia's biggest corporate failure. Jeff Lucy, chairman of the Australian Securities and Investment Commission or ASIC, welcomed the trial's outcome.

"The sentence handed to Mr. Adler sends a clear message to corporate Australia that ASIC, the community and the courts would not tolerate criminal behavior against the interests of shareholders," said Mr. Lucy.