Major Chinese Bank Eyes Norway

In an initiative by state-owned The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), Ambassador Svein O. Sæther met with representatives at the end of March as part of the institution’s ongoing European expansion plans, reports Aftenposten.

The move signals a possible improvement in relations since China became chilly following last year’s Nobel Peace Prize award to dissident Liu Xiaobo. It could also pave the way for better Chinese-Norwegian business possibilities, giving further weight to last week’s unofficial Q1 reports showing exports totaling four billion kroner took the boat to China.

“The Chinese are extremely pragmatic. They know Norway would like improved relations with China. Consequently, it could be expedient [for them] to exploit Norway’s wish to be extremely obliging in the wake of the Peace Prize for this purpose,” says Professor Arne Jon Isachsen, at the Norwegian Business School’s (BI) Institute for Economics.

Professor Isachsen believes this could also be a smokescreen for intense Chinese interest in commodities and new technology. Moreover, several unnamed sources tell the paper Norway’s energy and shipping industries make it an ideal country for ICBC.

By establishing a branch in Norway, the bank would be able to help Chinese companies but up Norwegian ones specialising in these areas.

Dimitris Belbas, Managing Director, Head of Shipping Finance from Singapore Seafin Pte Ltd, tells PRNewswire-Asia Chinese banks are also becoming increasingly significant in the ship-financing branch, with China’s portfolio totalling an estimated 102 billion US dollars.

ICBC, The Export Import Bank of China (CEXIM), and The Bank of China (BOC) own 75 percent of the country’s ship financing market. China is leading the global economic recovery and its banks wish to continue expanding east.

Aftenposten claims to have read Ambassador Svein Sæther’s minutes of the March meeting sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in which he writes that, “ICBC representatives have visited Norway and other European countries several times. Where ICBC establishes its offices will depend on the flow of Chinese investment, amongst other things.

“Chinese direct investments abroad are increasing at the same pace as the country’s economic growth. This is trend one must assume will be reinforced in coming years, with Chinese banks’ international business operations forming a natural part of this. Norway welcomes this development.”

The paper writes its efforts to obtain a comment from ICBC have failed.

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