Global Times: Under Xi’s leadership, China strives to build a world-class financial sector

BEIJING, Feb. 6, 2024  /PRNewswire/ — At the start of 2024, China’s opening-up push made a distinctive stride in the financial sector. On January 25, UK-based multinational bank Standard Chartered was approved to set up business in Hefei, East China’s Anhui Province. Days before, Chinese authorities said that 10 more foreign-funded institutions had been approved as lead underwriters or underwriters of debt financing instruments for non-financial enterprises.

These are just a couple of examples of a series of financial opening-up measures in the first month of 2024. The arrival and expansion of a growing number of global financial institutions in the Chinese markets not only highlight China’s commitment to opening up its finance industry to international players, but also underscored massive interest among these institutions in China’s vast financial market and the massive potential it holds.

Such confidence comes from the Chinese leadership’s emphasis on transforming the country into a financial powerhouse. In October 2023, the top-level Central Financial Work Conference, which was attended by Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, Chinese president and chairman of the Central Military Commission, stressed that it is imperative to accelerate the building of a nation with a strong financial sector.

On January 16, at a study session on promoting high-quality financial development at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee (the National Academy of Governance), attended by leading provincial and ministerial-level officials, Xi elaborated on that goal, sending fresh and strong signals on the transformation of China into a financial powerhouse as part of its efforts to pursue the high-quality development of the financial sector, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

With such an emphasis on the top leadership and strenuous efforts to follow, China’s finance industry is set for a period of rapid development and safeguarding the country’s status as a financial and global economic powerhouse, analysts predict.

Such an ascendance, coupled with continued opening-up, will offer greater opportunities to the world, while the participation of global financial giants will also reinforce China’s financial industry development.

Commitment to opening-up

“We will fully give play to the network advantage of Standard Chartered across the globe, especially markets along the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to actively support the global development of local companies [in Anhui] and help foreign enterprises set up businesses in the province,” Zhang Xiaolei, head of Standard Chartered China, was quoted as saying in a press release sent to the Global Times.

The expansion of Standard Chartered in the Chinese market came just days after Chinese regulators approved US-based asset management firm AllianceBernstein’s application for a license to run its wholly-owned mutual fund business in China.

“AllianceBernstein will provide Chinese investors with domestic investment products and solutions, and help tap investment opportunities in China’s local market,” the company said in a statement sent to the Global Times.

China’s National Association of Financial Market Institutional Investors said on January 18 that 10 more foreign-funded institutions have been approved as lead underwriters or underwriters of debt financing instruments for non-financial enterprises, in a major step toward further financial opening-up. The newly approved institutions include HSBC, Standard Chartered, and Credit Agricole.

The trend of global financial firms showing an interest in the Chinese market comes in the wake of robust opening-up market policies in China. 

The country has implemented over 50 financial opening-up measures in recent years, including removing caps on foreign ownership in banking and insurance institutions, lowering quantitative thresholds for foreign investment, and continuously expanding the breadth and depth of financial opening-up.

Currently, 24 foreign Global Systemically Important Banks have been established in China and nearly half of the world’s top 40 insurance companies have entered the Chinese market. Meanwhile, the China Securities Regulatory Commission has approved more than 20 foreign-controlled and wholly foreign-owned securities, futures, and fund firms since China lifted foreign ownership limitations for such firms in 2020.

Striving for great goal

Sustained high-level opening-up is part of China’s great goal of becoming a financial powerhouse. The Central Financial Work Conference elevated the importance of financial work to a higher strategic level by setting a goal, for the first time, to build the country into a nation with a strong financial sector. “The financial sector is the lifeblood of a nation’s economy and a crucial component of a country’s core competitiveness,” it stressed.

At the study session on promoting high-quality financial development, Xi emphasized that a country with a strong financial sector should have a strong economic foundation, and lead the world in economy, technology and comprehensive national strength.

Such a nation should also have a series of key core financial elements, such as a strong currency, a strong central bank, strong financial institutions, strong international financial centers, strong financial supervision, and a high-caliber pool of financial talents, he said.

Since the important speech, officials from various central government departments and local governments across the country have moved swiftly to outline specific policy measures to bolster the financial industry. The central bank, for example, vowed to continue to promote structural reform on the incremental side of finance, optimize the structural layout of financial institutions and financial markets, and accelerate the construction of a modern financial system with Chinese characteristics.

The rise of the Chinese economy and transformation of China into an economic power need support from a strong financial sector, Lian Ping, chief economist and head of the Zhixin Investment Research Institute, told the Global Times, noting that building a strong financial sector will be the target for the industry in the foreseeable future.

Since the beginning of 2023, China has rolled out a series of reform and opening-up measures in the financial sector. Of milestone significance in the reform of China’s capital market, was China rolling out its across-the-board registration-based IPO system in February 2023. The development of the Beijing Stock Exchange entered the fast lane of development amid the country’s ramped-up efforts to strengthen financial support for technological innovations.

In 2023, Chinese policymakers also strengthened support for the development of multiple financial centers including Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, and Shenzhen in South China’s Guangdong Province. The National Financial Regulatory Administration was also officially set up on May 18, 2023, marking an important step in the country’s institutional reform in financial supervision.

Data shows that China has made great strides in its financial sector, with more than 4,000 banking institutions in total and five banks assessed as global systemically important banks, and the scale of its equity, bonds, and insurance market is the second-largest in the world.

“Currency comes first among all the core financial elements because it’s an important element of a modern economy. Currency is not only a medium of exchange and unit of account, but also functions as an international reserve,” Zhao Xijun, co-president of the China Capital Market Research Institute at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times.

From the perspective of the yuan, its internationalization has entered a key stage, he said, noting that steadily boosting the yuan’s internationalization to strengthen the currency’s status equivalent to China’s standing as the world’s second-largest economy is an important part of building a strong financial sector.

Many countries such as those in the BRICS and Saudi Arabia have increased use of the yuan. The yuan retained the status of the fourth most active currency for global payments by value in December 2023, with a share of 4.14 percent, according to the latest data released by SWIFT, a global provider of financial messaging services.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the share of the yuan in global foreign exchange reserves stood at 2.69 percent by the end of 2022, with the amount totaling $298.4 billion, ranking fifth among major currencies.

Vast potential remains

While China’s financial industry has achieved sound development, there is still great potential, as it lags behind that of advanced economies, analysts have noted.

There is a gap between China’s financial sector and that of developed countries in areas including product function, market expansion capability, service quality, and risk-control capability, Lian said.

Lian said that the realization of building a financial powerhouse means leapfrogging improvements in aspects including the yuan’s free convertibility under the capital account, the internationalization of the Chinese financial institutions, the opening-up of the domestic capital market, and the sale of international financial centers in the Chinese mainland.

“In history, only two countries can be considered financial powerhouses – the UK in the past and now the US. I believe China will be the third financial powerhouse in the future, with strenuous exploration and remaining firmly committed to an economic path with Chinese characteristics and boosting reform and opening-up,” Wu Xiaoqiu, dean of the China Capital Market Research Institute, said at a forum in Beijing on January 18.

Wu said building China into a financial powerhouse should embody Chinese characteristics, including the CPC’s unified leadership over financial work, the promotion of the development of inclusive finance, and the support of financial development with sci-tech innovations.

The vast potential for China’s financial industry is also underscored by growing interest among foreign financial institutions in the Chinese market.

Colm Kelleher, Chairman of the Board of UBS Group AG, speaking at UBS’s 24th Greater China Conference on January 9, said “China continues to be the world’s second-largest economy and wealth creation hub and is a key market for UBS.”

“We remain committed to our onshore growth strategy, and we are in a unique position to provide access to China to international investors, as well as to support Chinese companies and investors who want to go global,” he said.

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