China will raise foreign ownership limits in financial firms in a step granting access to a tantalizing multi-trillion dollar financial services market, as the world's second-biggest economy seeks to position itself as a major global finance hub.
The move, announced on Friday by vice finance minister Zhu Guangyao, comes a day after US President Donald Trump reiterated calls for better access to Chinese markets in meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Xi is driving broad economic reforms by opening up China's capital markets, internationalising the yuan currency, and seeking technical know-how through the pursuit of massive inbound and outbound investments.
The latest changes include raising the limit on foreign ownership in joint-venture firms involved in the futures, securities and funds markets to 51 percent from the current 49 percent.
They will take effect immediately following the drafting of specific related rules, Zhu told a news conference, adding China is "formulating a timetable and roadmap for financial sector reform and opening up".
The foreign business community gave a cautious welcome to the news. "Financial services further opening definitely has been high on our list," said Ken Jarrett, President of American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai.
"It's a step in the right direction. We'll have to see the detailed rules. In China you always have to pay attention to the fine print to see how quickly it moves, but to finally ease up on the cap is something that is welcome."
The plan to ease ownership restrictions comes as Beijing faces mounting pressure from Western governments and business lobbies to remove investment barriers and onerous regulations that restrict overseas companies' operations in its markets. During his trip to Beijing this week, Trump said that trade between the two nations was unfair, and called for greater market access for US companies.
"We really have to look at access, forced technology transfer, and the theft of intellectual property, which just, by and of itself, is costing the United States and its companies at least $300 billion a year," Trump said.
"Both the United States and China will have a more prosperous future if we can achieve a level economic playing field. Right now, unfortunately, it is a very one-sided and unfair one."
Reuters reported on Tuesday that China planned to allow global banks to take a stake of up to 51 percent in their onshore securities ventures for the first time and tie up with local non-financial firms. China has been sluggish to give foreign players more access to its financial sector, but has promised to quicken the pace as foreign investment into Asia's economic powerhouse slows.