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Commercial banks going overseas
( 2003-10-27 09:27) (China Daily)

Major Chinese commercial banks are emphasizing the development of overseas business to increase their global competitiveness, industry observers say.

The move comes at a time when the domestic banking industry will face stiffer competition in the years ahead as China opens its banking markets as a full-fledged member of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

China Construction Bank (CCB), one of the country's four largest State-owned commercial banks, said it will be expanding its overseas business in the coming years.

"We are now actively preparing for opening a branch in Seoul," a spokesman for the bank said.

In February this year, the bank opened its fifth overseas branch in Tokyo, where officials say it will engage in all major activities, including trade financing, loans and securities trading when given approval by the Japanese banking supervision authorities.

"In the coming years, China Construction Bank will set up branches in all major international financial centres, emerging markets, and areas with which China has established strong trade ties," he said.

But business expansion should help increase the bank's overall profit picture and competitiveness, and not merely increase the number of overseas branches, he said.

By the end of last year, total assets by the bank's overseas operations reached US$4.9 billion, an increase of 39.94 per cent compared with a year ago.

Pre-tax profits by these operations stood at US$25.51 million by then, an increase of 17.34 per cent.

Bank of China (BOC), the country's largest foreign exchange bank, said its overseas business has already accounted for half of the bank's total.

By the end of June this year, the bank had established 560 branches and representative offices in 27 countries and regions.

The bank's overseas assets accounted for about 30 per cent of the bank's total last year, while pre-tax profits accounted for 82.7 per cent.

Huang Jinlao, a senior researcher with the International Financial Institute, said China's large commercial banks will have to step into the international financial market, now that the country has become a member of the WTO.

"Expansion of overseas operations is an important step taken by these large banks to increase their global competitiveness," Huang said.

CCB President Zhang Enzhao said his bank is now speeding up reforms to prepare for being listed on stock exchanges.

"Our goal is to establish a modern commercial bank with good corporate governance and sound performance that will make us a competitive heavyweight in the global financial market," he said.

BOC spokesman Wang Zhaowen said his bank planned to turn itself into a large international bank with competitive advantages and relatively good corporate governance within three to five years.

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