Lending Tree: The Motives Behind and Implications of Chinese Bank Branch Growth in Foreign Markets
China’s four largest banks are setting up shop abroad. In 2020, these banks actively managed over 500 foreign brick-and-mortar locations, up from fewer than 100 in 2007. What is behind the international expansion of China’s state-owned banks? What economic motives are driving these banks to “go out” and what, if any, role does geopolitics play in their overseas branch growth? Using an original dataset of foreign branches of China’s “Big Four” banks, I find that these major state-backed financial institutions have opened more foreign branches in markets where China also has a larger presence in the development project space. Countries that are official participants in BRI, for example, have more Chinese bank branches. Similarly, as the number of Chinese development projects in a country grows, or as the size of the development project financial commitment increases, so too do the number of branches. Notably, a battery of geopolitical variables are not correlated with bank branch numbers, suggesting that—to date—bank expansion is primarily about executing China’s foreign economic policy. However, in time, the presence of Chinese banks in these markets may play a role in improving Chinese resilience to economic pressure from the United States in the form of financial sanctions.
About the Author
Kissinger Institute on China and the United States
The Kissinger Institute works to ensure that China policy serves American long-term interests and is founded in understanding of historical and cultural factors in bilateral relations and in accurate assessment of the aspirations of China’s government and people. Read more