Diplomatic tensions continue to simmer between South Korea and Japan over disputed islands and school textbooks, but cooperation remains the order of the day between the two countries in the commercial sphere.

Technology giants Samsung of South Korea and Sony of Japan are strengthening a partnership they formed last year to produce new home technology items. The joint corporation they formed, S-LCD, is beginning to produce liquid crystal display televisions for sale in both countries.

Samsung Electronics Director Joo Woo-shik says the partnership is a natural match. Mr. Joo says S-LCD benefits from Sony's worldwide reputation and Samsung's brand power and technological innovation. The two companies also plan to pool research in optic disk devices, such as DVD players.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard is applauding a surprise decision by the country's central bank to leave the key interest rate unchanged at 5.5 percent. Many market-watchers expected the Reserve Bank of Australia to raise its official cash rate by a quarter point.

The RBA had warned for months that low unemployment, a large trade deficit, and strong consumer demand were fueling inflationary pressures, which would make a rate increase necessary.

However, the bank decided to leave the rate as it is after factoring in high oil costs, and a cooling in the real estate market.

China is ordering local governments to do more to cool down sizzling real estate prices in urban areas such as Shanghai. Property prices in that city rose nearly 16 percent last year.

Beijing began raising interest rates and restricting conversion of farmland into business developments more than a year ago to tighten the real estate market, but the measures have so far had little effect.

Now, the central government is authorizing local administrators to put large development projects on hold in an attempt to curb property speculation, which Beijing says is a danger to the country's financial stability. Excessive lending to property projects could create an oversupply of new buildings and lead to a collapse in sales. That would mean China's banks could see their massive pile of unpaid loans grow to dangerous levels.