China is further opening up its banking sector. Photo: AFP

China is further opening up its financial sector to foreign investors by streamlining regulatory requirements and lifting restrictions on foreign firms.

Earlier this month, the influential State Council announced plans to relax market access rules for overseas insurance companies and expand opportunities for foreign banks in the world’s second-largest economy.

Foreign banks will now be able to simultaneously set up branches in the country, making it easier and quicker to put together joint-ventures. Foreign banks will also be able to lower their branch threshold of fixed-term time deposits for Chinese customers from 1 million yuan (US$141,709) to 500,000 yuan.

“Revisions of the banking and insurance regulations will attract more market participants in both sectors, stimulate market vitality, push Chinese and foreign-invested financial institutions to improve their competitiveness and benefit China in regard of learning from advanced international ideas and experience,” Liu Fushou, of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, told a media briefing on October 15.

Another breakthrough is that foreign banks will no longer need to receive regulatory approval to conduct their business in yuan. They will also be able to underwrite government bonds.

In the insurance sector, the State Council has radically rewritten the rule book. Previously, overseas firms had to have been in the insurance business for 30 years with a representative office in mainland China for two years before being involved in the sector. That has now been scrapped.

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“China has kept stepping up efforts in easing financial market access for foreign investors in recent years,” Xinhua, the official state-run news agency, reported. “The country’s securities regulator announced a clear timetable for allowing full foreign ownership of financial service companies covering the sectors of fund management, brokerage and futures.”

This latest round of “opening up” in the financial sector is part of a timetable rolled out by Beijing in 2017 to abolish the limits on foreign ownership in key areas of the financial sector.

On October 11, the China Securities Regulatory Commission released a timeline for removing limits on overseas involvement in futures, mutual fund and securities companies. They will start to kick in on January 1.

Last year, the CSRC eased regulations to allow some foreign financial entities to increase their minority stake to a majority 51%.

“The CSRC is pressing ahead with measures to open up the domestic financial market. It will continue to effectively pursue its approval tasks for the set-up of new asset management and securities [joint-ventures] according to laws,” a spokesperson for the regulatory said.

Beijing has been keen to attract more foreign capital to its markets.

“[Opening up] will help promote the internationalization of China’s futures market, increase its international influence, and help it become an international pricing center for commodities,” Yanghui Cao, the deputy director of the Hangzhou-based Nanhua Futures Research Institute, said in a Chinese statement translated by the CNBC television network.

This article was first published on the Asia Times China website. It was translated by Huang Wanyi

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