China to keep control of state banks

Officials at Central Huijin, the investment arm of China's central bank, are to keep China's four biggest banks under state control for at least another ten years, according to leaked minutes from a top-level meeting.

According to Xie Ping, Central Huijin's general manager, the state will retain a 66 per cent share in the Bank of China, the China Construction Bank (CCB), the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), with the Agricultural Bank of China (ABC) also set to remain under the control of the government.

The move comes as a backward step in China's recent drive to open up the country's major lenders to foreign investors in an attempt to liberalise its banking sector.

"Introducing foreign investors into the big four has led to a lot of arguments, but maintaining absolute control over these banks is our precondition to sale," Mr Xie said.

At present, it is estimated that 20 per cent of the capital in China's banking sector comes from foreign investment, and this is set to increase under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, which encourage liberalisation.

Recent foreign investors include Citibank and Bank of America, which have both bought stakes in Chinese banks.

Despite his desire to retain state control, Mr Xie acknowledged the benefits that foreign investors bring to the banking industry.

"Although we don't lack money, foreigners can improve the management structure, bring new technology and risk control," he said.

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