Top Asian News 4:57 a.m. GMT

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan's president spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo late Tuesday in an apparent bid to reassert his authority as Washington accelerates its negotiations with the Taliban and as separate talks unfold in Moscow without the government's involvement. In his State of the Union speech Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump said his administration is holding "constructive talks" with the Taliban and other Afghan groups, and that "as we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troops' presence and focus on counter-terrorism." Last September, the White House appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as a peace envoy tasked with finding a negotiated end to America's longest war, but until now he has been unable to get the Taliban to hold direct talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's government, whom the insurgents routinely refer to as a U.S.

MOSCOW (AP) — A Taliban official said Wednesday that the United States has promised to withdraw half of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of April, but the U.S. military said it has received no orders to begin packing up. Taliban official Abdul Salam Hanafi, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting in Moscow between prominent Afghan figures and Taliban representatives, said officials promised the pullout will begin this month. "The Americans told us that from the beginning of February to the end of April, half of the troops from Afghanistan will be withdrawn," Hanafi said. However, Pentagon spokesman Army Col.

WASHINGTON (AP) — There are no plans yet for President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to meet soon in hope of finalizing a trade deal, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday. Mnuchin and trade representative Robert Lighthizer are leading a team to Beijing next week to continue the talks, but nothing is yet on the books for a Trump-Xi meeting. "I can tell you there's nothing planned at this time for it, but the president has talked about potentially meeting with President Xi and we'll see what progress we make next week," Mnuchin said. The U.S. and China are in the midst of talks aimed at resolving a costly trade war, and Trump has said a comprehensive agreement is unlikely to be inked until he meets with his Chinese counterpart.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The man accused of murdering British tourist Grace Millane in New Zealand will continue to keep his name secret while a judge decides whether he can be publicly identified. The 27-year-old man appeared Thursday in Auckland's High Court. His lawyer argued his name should continue to be kept secret so he can get a fair trial, according to Radio New Zealand. A judge said he would announce a decision later. The case has highlighted the difficulty of courts maintaining secrecy in an age when information is quickly disseminated around the world. Last year, some British media decided to name the man in defiance of New Zealand court orders.

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese investigators said Thursday tests on a batch of a plasma product feared to have been contaminated with HIV have turned up negative for the virus that causes AIDS. The result appears to have headed off the possibility of yet another scandal involving medical products in the country. Incidents include the falsifying of production records for rabies vaccines that prompted a nationwide crackdown on the industry and the injecting of other faulty vaccines. Public outrage over such scandals has alarmed the leadership of the ruling Communist Party, moving it to respond more quickly and firmly than in the past, including bringing criminal charges and billion dollar fines.

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka's president urged human rights groups on Wednesday not to interfere with his plans to end a 43-year moratorium on capital punishment. Maithripala Sirisena told Parliament that executions will resume in the next two months. He said many larger nations carry out executions but smaller countries like Sri Lanka are hampered by human rights groups in their efforts to control crime. "In carrying out the executions ... I especially appeal to the human rights organizations not to control punishments given to serious criminals by raising human rights issues," Sirisena said. Sri Lanka is predominantly Buddhist, a religion which advocates non-violence.

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's government insisted Wednesday it cannot free a detained soccer player who has refugee status in Australia until hearings on Bahrain's request for his extradition are completed. Thailand has come under great pressure from Australia's government, sporting bodies and human rights groups to send Hakeem al-Araibi back to Australia. He was arrested last year at a Bangkok airport when he arrived on a honeymoon trip with his wife. Al-Araibi, a former player on Bahrain's national team, says he fled Bahrain due to political repression and that he fears torture if he returns. Bahrain wants him back to serve a 10-year prison sentence he received in absentia in 2014 for alleged involvement in the arson of a police station, a charge he denies.

TOKYO (AP) — President Donald Trump used his biggest stage of the year to announce a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump said in his State of the Union address that he intends to meet Kim on Feb. 27-28 in Vietnam, saying that although much work remains to be done toward peace on the Korean Peninsula, his relationship with Kim is a good one. But is Kim really ready to make a deal? Here's why the stakes will be higher this time around. ___ LOWERING EXPECTATIONS Trump's announcement of the summit's timing and location was expected. He had been teasing it for weeks.

BANGKOK (AP) — Vietnam's selection as the venue for the second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is largely a matter of convenience and security, but not without bigger stakes. Washington's goal for the Feb. 27-28 talks is for North Korea to agree give up its nuclear weapons. North Korea frames the issue more broadly, seeking a removal of the "nuclear threat" from U.S. military forces in South Korea. Host Vietnam hopes to boost its diplomatic leverage against its powerful neighbor, China, which contests waters in the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam. But Vietnam's history as a U.S.

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Governments across Asia on Wednesday expressed hope that a second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam will produce concrete results that will lead to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Trump announced in his State of the Union address that the summit will take place Feb. 27-28. A spokesman for South Korean President Moon Jae-in said South Korea hopes the United States and North Korea will produce "more concrete and practical" agreements during the meeting. The leaders' first summit in Singapore last June ended with a vague promise by Kim to work toward denuclearization, without a concrete plan for how it would be implemented.