The Swiss insurer, Winterthur, has bought a stake in a leading Chinese life insurance company, in what is thought to be the first such alliance by a western firm.
Winterthur said on Tuesday that it had bought into China's fifth largest life insurer, Tai Kang Life. The size of its investment has not been revealed, but the company said it would be joining Tai Kang's board of directors.
Winterthur added that the deal was the first such alliance to be struck by a western company. "Winterthur Life is the first foreign insurer to be allowed to enter into a strategic alliance with a major life insurer in the People's Republic of China," the company said in a statement.
China recently agreed to open up its insurance market as part of the accord allowing its entry to the Geneva-based World Trade Organisation.
Winterthur, a subsidiary of the Credit Suisse group, said the alliance marked a turning point in the relationship between the two companies. They signed an agreement on technical cooperation four years ago.
The Swiss company was the first European insurer to gain a Chinese insurance licence in 1997.
Tai Kang life was founded in 1996 and has a licence to sell insurance across China. Its shareholders are 16 state-owned enterprises.
Its head office is in Beijing and it employs around 200 people. Its nominal capital is about SFr130.3 million ($72.6 million).
Western insurance companies are scrambling to secure a foothold in China, which is seen as the world's fastest growing market place for financial services.
swissinfo with agencies