Japan overtook China as the top foreign holder of U.S. government debt for the first time since the global financial crisis, a sign of economic and policy shifts in Asia's two largest economies.

Japan's ownership of Treasuries fell by US$14.2 billion, to $1.2244 trillion, in February, according to Treasury Department data released Wednesday in Washington. China's holdings were $1.2237 trillion as of February, $15.4 billion lower than a month earlier.

The reversal reflects the diverging paths of the two countries' currencies, with Japan embarking on record asset purchases that have weakened the yen 27 percent since 2012, and China seeking to avoid having the yuan decline too much against the dollar as the nation's economy slows. China's Treasury holdings had overtaken Japan's in 2008 as the U.S. ramped up borrowing during the financial crisis.

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