The Industrial and Commerce Bank of China (Hong Kong: 1398; Shanghai: 601398), the world's largest bank, is set to buy an 80 percent stake in Bank of East Asia (BEA) USA, based in New York.
Western media report that the deal announced on Wednesday, approved by the Federal Reserve, is a historic moment marking the first time a U.S.-based bank has ever been purchased by a Chinese one.
The deal comes after high-level strategic talks between China and the U.S. last Thursday and Friday, during which Chinese negotiators urged the U.S. to open up its financial system to further investments from China. The Bank of China and the Agricultural Bank of China have also been allowed to set up branches respectively in Chicago and New York City. They are considered, as well as ICBC, part of China's 'Big Four' state-owned banks.
BEA USA is a subsidiary of BEA Ltd. (Hong Kong: 0023), a Hong Kong-based bank that is renowned for being the first bank ever established there by an ethnic Chinese. BEA is the largest independent local bank in Hong Kong and is headed by CEO Sir David Li (Li Kwok-po), who also serves on the Hong Kong Legislative Council. Li was named in a complaint by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission in 2007 for alleged involvement in insider trading.
ICBC was the second Chinese bank ever approved by the U.S. government to establish a branch in New York, in 2008.
The new deal marks a new development in ICBC's attempt to expand its presence in North America through purchases of BEA affiliates. In 2010, ICBC purchased a 70 percent stake in BEA Canada, and subsequently renamed all branches there ICBC Canada.