China is becoming the new battleground for U.S. carriers. American Airlines and Continental Airlines recently won tentative approval to operate non-stop services from the United States to China. Only United Airlines and Northwest Airlines currently have that privilege.

For its part, United Airlines says it will start deploying larger aircraft on its China routes. The airline will also add three flights on its popular Chicago-Hong Kong route in May - a month ahead of schedule.

U.S. airlines are struggling with losses back home and analysts say Asia has become their biggest hope for getting out of the red.

Mark Schwab, vice president for United Airlines' Pacific operations, said his company has expanded its Asian service over the past year, adding more destinations and flights. "Air travel in this part of the world is growing at a faster pace than anywhere else in the world. ? We have more customers in the United States who are doing more business in Asia, who are asking us for more service. Likewise travel from Asia to the United States is on a fairly fast upward pace also. In trying to react to customer demand, we have been looking to strategically add these services," he said.

European carriers are also keen to cash in on China. Germany's Lufthansa says it will start a daily service between Frankfurt and the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou in March. The airline currently operates a daily service between Munich and Shanghai.

In other news, the Hong Kong government's first land auction of the year exceeded expectations. A commercial plot - the first such site auctioned in the territory since 2001 - sold for three times the minimum price set for it, earning the government $233 million.

Property analysts say the sale price indicates a strong revival in Hong Kong's office market. The residential property market also is rebounding, with some luxury flats selling at prices not seen since the mid-1990s.

In South Korea, the country's monthly trade surplus soared 58 percent to $4.5 billion in January.

But the government predicts trade figures in February will be weaker because of a strong South Korean currency (won), which makes exports more expensive overseas.