The biggest Chinese banks have ambitious global lending plans. This is creating borrowing opportunities for Chinese and international companies, and a windfall for major law firms. George W Russell and Robin Weir report

In recent times, the major Chinese banks have undertaken a string of record-breaking initial public offerings. Agricultural Bank of China’s listing in 2010 raised US$22 billion, and Minsheng Bank raised US$3.9 billion in 2009. Since its US$21.9 billion IPO in 2006, the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) has been the world’s largest bank by market value.

The banks have also begun to make strategic acquisitions abroad. In January, ICBC paid US$140 million for 80% of the small US retail network of the Hong Kong-based Bank of East Asia. In 2007, ICBC forked out US$5.6 billion for 20% of South Africa’s Standard Bank, while China Merchants Bank acquired control of Hong Kong’s Wing Lung Bank for US$2.5 billion in 2008 (see Proceeding with caution on page 33).

Alexander Aitken 魏德勤, Herbert Smith 史密夫律师事务所, Partner 合伙人But while major deals such as these have hit the headlines, Chinese banks are moving forward quietly in another area – international lending – that could alter the global financial landscape. “Chinese banks are happy to deploy their resources internationally, especially loans,” says Alexander Aitken, a Herbert Smith partner in Hong Kong who has advised China Development Bank, ICBC and others.

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