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Visiting Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte sought to downplay reports that China has lost its appetite for US debt. With its own economy troubled, the communist giant has committed itself to a $600 billion stimulus plan. But Negroponte said Chinese officials told him they "want to work hard in the year ahead to uphold our mutual commitment to promoting an open ... financial system." China has bought more than $1 trillion in US debt over the past five years, helping to keep interest rates low.

At a discount, tycoon Li Ka-shing sold $511 million worth of stock Thursday in the Bank of China, raising new concerns about a loss of investor confidence in that nation's financial sector. The sell-off followed a similar move last month by Swiss banking giant UBS, said to be worth $900 million. Royal Bank of Scotland, another major shareholder, said it also was considering the sale of its stake. Earlier this week, Bank of America unloaded $2.8 billion worth of shares in China Construction Bank.

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