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Chinese banking giant ICBC opens branch in Spain

Chinese bank ICBC, the world’s largest by market value, opened its first branch in Spain on Monday as part of an expansion in Europe that has highlighted Beijing’s growing global influence.

The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China branch in Madrid’s central Paseo de Recoletos will focus mainly on Chinese immigrants in Spain and firms doing business with the Asian country, the world’s second largest economy.

The opening is part of a plan to double its presence in Europe with the opening five new branches in Europe — Amsterdam, Brussels, Milan and Paris in addition to the office in the Spanish capital.

During talks in Madrid, Spanish Economy Minister Elena Salgado congratulated visiting ICBC president Jian Jin Qing on the opening of the new branch, which the economy ministry said in a statement “could be a good bridge towards European and Latin American economies”.

The opening of the branch follows a visit earlier this month to Spain by Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang where he reportedly said Beijing would be willing to buy about EUR6.0 billion ($8.0 billion) worth of Spanish public debt.

ICBC has been the most aggressive of China’s “big four” banks in expanding overseas, as the country’s lenders restart plans that were put on hold by the global financial crisis and seize new opportunities left in its wake.

The bank, which has a market capitalisation of nearly $300 billion, posted a third quarter net profit of 42.6 billion yuan ($6.38 billion), a 27 percent increase over the same time a year earlier.

Spain imported EUR14.5 billion worth of products from China in 2009, making the Asian country its third-biggest supplier after Germany and France. It exported nearly EUR2.0 billion worth of goods that year to China.

The number of Chinese nationals in Spain has risen from less than 10,000 in 1995 to over 170,000 currently.