Switzerland took an important step toward becoming a renminbi trading hub on Thursday with its inauguration of a new branch of the China Construction Bank, (CCB), one of the biggest financial institutions in the world.
The Zurich branch of the CCB has been authorised by China's central bank to operate as a clearing bank for renminbi transactions, helping establish cross-border activity and an offshore centre for the renminbi in Switzerland.
The president of the Swiss National Bank, Thomas Jordan, China’s ambassador to Switzerland, Xu Jinghu, and a CCB executive vice president, Pang Xiusheng, were among the more than 200 guests on hand to open the first Chinese bank on Swiss soil.
The ceremony in Zurich coincided with a visit by Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter to Beijing, where he took part in a news conference on Friday with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi to announce China's plans to step up its anti-corruption cooperation with Switzerland.
The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority, FINMA, granted a banking license for the branch office last year. It provides traditional commercial banking, but specialises in financial services for Chinese companies investing in Switzerland.
It also plans to offer wealth management, private banking and asset management, and to coordinate with the Swiss stock exchange on renminbi trading.
The CCB is one of China’s “big four” state-owned commercial lenders, which have been among the world’s most profitable, but have also seen their earnings growth slow as China’s fast expansion cools and the Communist Party introduces market forces into lending.
The bank had more than $2.7 trillion in assets as of the end of 2014.
The CCB was the first Chinese bank to receive a licence to offer commercial banking services and clear renminbi transactions in Switzerland.
Chinese authorities have aggressively promoted international use of the renminbi since 2010, creating a global network of offshore banks to promote the renminbi as a reserve currency.
CCB has branches in at least two dozen countries, including cities such as London, Tokyo and New York, and last year it began operations in Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Milan, offering major Chinese firms and local companies corporate banking services similar to those being offered in Zurich.
swissinfo.ch and agencies