Markets digested mixed news about the trade negotiations overnight, after CNBC reported the mood in Beijing was pessimistic about the prospects of sealing an agreement.
However, a new extension allowing U.S. companies to continue doing business with China's Huawei Technologies was announced, offering some hope that the move may improve relations between the two countries.
"The trade-talks are starting to look more like an iceberg, and not a lighthouse," Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst for Asia Pacific at OANDA said in a note.
The closer markets were getting to the looming Dec. 15 deadline, when a new set of U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports will kick in if a deal is not met, the more lonely equity markets are starting to look, he added.
Leading declines, Singapore markets slid 0.7% to a near 3-week low. A near 4% drop in conglomerate Jardine Matheson Holdings dragged the index lower, while land developer City Developments shed 1.4%, also adding pressure.
Malaysian stocks tumbled nearly 0.6% after a minister said the government will enforce regulations to ensure that by 2021 its palm oil meets new food safety standards under consideration by the European Union.
Adding to woes, Malaysian officials said that the Malaysian palm oil industry is facing "significant challenges" in complying with certain sustainability standards, which includes protecting workers' rights and the environment, by next year.
Malaysia is the second-biggest producer and exporter of palm oil after Indonesia and its economy is heavily reliant on income from the palm oil export business.
Palm oil cultivators Kuala Lumpur Kepong and IOI Corp shed 0.9% and 0.2% respectively, while PPB group lost 0.9%.
Bucking the trend, Indonesian shares climbed 0.2%, underpinned by gains in financials with sector heavyweight PT Bank Central Asia adding 0.6%.
Thai and Philippines markets remained tepid, barely moving in early trade, while Vietnam stocks crept marginally higher.
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SOUTHEAST ASIAN STOCK MARKETS AS AT 0342 GMT
Market Current Previous close Pct Move
Singapore 3235.78 3258.66 -0.70
Bangkok 1606.69 1608 -0.08
Manila 7884.61 7880.94 0.05
Jakarta 6134.355 6122.625 0.19
Kuala Lumpur 1599.24 1604.36 -0.32
Ho Chi Minh 1005.19 1002.91 0.23
Change so far in 2019
Market Current End 2018 Pct Move
Singapore 3235.78 3068.76 5.44
Bangkok 1606.69 1563.88 2.74
Manila 7884.61 7,466.02 5.61
Jakarta 6134.355 6,194.50 -0.97
Kuala Lumpur 1599.24 1690.58 -5.40
Ho Chi Minh 1005.19 892.54 12.62
By Arundhati Dutta