China opens up finance industry to foreigners as trade war with US simmers

Aerial view of Lujiazui Financial District at dusk, Pudong, Shanghai, China.Fei Yang | Moment | Getty ImagesBEIJING — As trade tensions between the U.S. and China simmer, Beijing is finally acting on the long-awaited opening of its massive financial industry — and global financial giants are taking note.Beijing announced Tuesday that overseas financial institutions can establish foreign-invested insurance companies in the mainland, and become shareholders of these new firms.Other changes include allowing foreign lenders to establish wholly-owned banks in China, and removing the need for prior approval for conducting businesses in the local currency, known as the renminbi or yuan.Tuesday’s announcements come as the U.S. and China concluded the latest round of trade talks on the weekend, with the intention of sealing a deal in the coming weeks, which will likely cover intellectual property protection, financial services and Chinese agricultural purchases.Although the changes were released Tuesday, the documents are dated Sept. 30, according to online materials from China’s powerful State Council and China Banking and Regulatory Commission.”From a broad perspective, China is showing its welcoming gestures towards foreign financial institutions, intending to leverage them to expedite reform in the Chinese market such as business management, development strategies, hence becoming more competitive in a global context,” Emilie Wu, analyst at Shanghai-based Red Pulse, said in an email.To be clear, it may be years before companies can actually take advantage of China’s announcements on opening its insurance and other parts of the financial industry further to foreign institutions. Analysts noted there are often licenses and other procedures that can drag out the process in an industry already dominated by local players and systems.”Again, the same for both foreign banks and insurers, policy relaxation does not guarantee success in China,” Wu said. “Local strategies and networks also matter.”This is another step towards increasing foreign-invested institutions’ long-term confidence in China, and enables these firms to see an even clearer direction.Charles LinCEO of Vanguard ChinaOn Friday, Oct. 11, the China Securities Regulatory Commission announced a time frame for removing foreign ownership limits in the financial industry, namely in futures, mutual fund and securities companies. The planned rollout of the policy will begin in January.”This is another step towards increasing foreign-invested institutions’ long-term confidence in China, and enables these firms to see an even clearer direction,” Charles Lin, CEO of Vanguard China, said in a Chinese-language statement translated by CNBC.”China’s financial industry and capital markets are full of vitality and opportunities,” Lin said. “In particular, the demand of individual investors for wealth management is constantly increasing.”Other major foreign financial institutions are eager to tap the Chinese market. Some have already been gradually building their business there.”Citi continues to evaluate opportunities to further support its clients in China,” the company said in a statement. A spokesperson noted how the company is working to build up its digital wealth management services, especially in China.

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