Mastercard has won long-awaited approval to expand its offerings in China’s huge payments market, days after the country’s leader personally sought to improve business ties between Beijing and Washington.
The US credit card giant announced Monday that it had received clearance from China’s central bank and the financial regulator to launch a bank card business in China through its joint venture with partner NetsUnion Clearing Corporation (NUCC).
China is an almost cashless society, with $434 trillion in electronic transactions annually. Alipay and WeChat Pay, the ubiquitous digital wallets from Chinese tech giants Alibaba and Tencent, respectively, are the dominant platforms, accounting for a combined 91% market share.
The approval comes more than three years after regulators agreed in principle to allow Mastercard (MA) and NUCC to set up a domestic bank card clearing institution, according to a statement from the New York-based company.
On Wednesday, Chinese leader Xi Jinping met US President Joe Biden in the San Francisco Bay Area for hours of landmark talks.
At a dinner later that night, Xi dined with American business leaders and told them China was willing to be “a partner and a friend” of the United States.
Mastercard CEO Michael Miebach took part in a CEO summit on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum that Xi and other leaders from across the Pacific were in town to attend. Other attendees included Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Miebach said in the statement that the approval was a “milestone.”
The move was framed in Chinese state media as proof of the country’s continued efforts to open up its economy.
Like other foreign payments providers, Mastercard has campaigned for years to expand its business in China. Previously, it was only authorized to issue co-branded cards, such as those with China UnionPay, the state-owned bank card network.
Those transactions were processed on the UnionPay network when used within mainland China for yuan payments, and on Mastercard’s network when used abroad for US dollar payments. Now, with direct market access, Mastercard can process and collect fees on many more transactions.
It is the second foreign firm to obtain direct market access after American Express, which received its license in 2020. Amex launched its first debit cards for yuan transactions a year later.