HSBC Holdings, Europe's biggest bank, is entering insurance markets in China and Taiwan as part of its broader strategy to tap the fast-growing Asian region.

David Fried, regional head of insurance for Asia Pacific, told Reuters in an interview on Thursday that the bank had obtained government approval to set up a joint venture in China.

The bank also said it would open an insurance business in Taiwan, Asia's fourth-biggest insurance market. Earlier this year it announced it was taking stakes or forming joint ventures in India and Vietnam.

This will support the bank's overall Greater China strategy, Fried said.

Foreign financial institutions have been eager to tap China's market, where insurance premiums rose more than 20 percent to 371.8 billion yuan (US$49.5 billion) in the first half of this year.

Fried declined to reveal who the partner in China was, saying only that HSBC could make an announcement at any time.

A Hong Kong newspaper said on Thursday that HSBC, which has more than 40 branches and sub-branches in mainland China, planned to form a 50-50 venture with National Trust, a Beijing-registered trust and investment firm, to set up an insurance business.

The joint venture will be headquartered in Shanghai and could begin operations as early as the second half of next year, the South China Morning Post said.

In Taiwan, the bank faces tough competition in the big but highly competitive market, which is filled with local players such as Cathay and Shin Kong, as well as multinationals including ING, Aviva Plc, Prudential Plc and Metlife.

(US$ = 7.514 yuan)

(Additional reporting by Meg Shen)