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Financing China's Asian ambitions

OCBC aims to position itself as a trusted partner to Chinese enterprises venturing abroad.

AS more Chinese companies look beyond their shores for growth, OCBC aims to be the conduit through which these enterprises connect with customers in South-east Asia.

The Singapore-based bank has adopted an "offshore and onshore" strategy to grow its China business, which leverages on its long track record on the mainland as well as its expertise in South-east Asian markets. OCBC has operated continuously since it opened its first branch in Xiamen in 1925, not halting even during times of war.

The strategy appears to be paying dividends. According to the bank's fiscal third quarter results, China now accounts for 20 per cent of the group's pre-tax profit, overtaking Malaysia as its second largest market after Singapore. In particular, the acquisition of Hong Kong-based Wing Hang Bank in 2014 has helped fuel the growth of its presence in greater China.

Singapore's strong relationship with China has been a key factor in boosting business ties between the two countries, explained OCBC's head of corporate banking George Lee.

"Singapore straddles East Asian and western markets, it is a convenient link for Chinese companies whose ambition is to venture abroad," he said.

Mr Lee noted that initiatives like the China-led "One Belt, One Road", which aims to develop the region's infrastructure, is reflective of the Chinese government's goal of engaging with Asia on a deeper level.

"Everyone acknowledges that what Asia lacks most is infrastructure - whether it's your ports or highways. Singapore can play a key role in this, especially in South-east Asia," he said. OCBC intends to be a significant player in the "One Belt One Road" initiative, particularly in the area of project financing for infrastructure projects.

To help position itself as a trusted partner for Chinese businesses, OCBC is a joint presenter of the Business China Awards, which aim to honour outstanding businessmen, entrepreneurs, professionals and organisations for their successes and contributions to Singapore-China relations as well as strengthening of bilingualism and biculturalism in Singapore.

"It is an important initiative because it values business ties with China. It recognises people who have contributed to the development of the relationship and hopes to spur other individuals and companies to foster stronger ties," said Mr Lee.

He added: "It also sends a signal that China is very important to OCBC and highlights our capabilities to Chinese companies which are planning to invest in South-east Asia, which is our home market."

While China has been facing the prospect of slower growth, Mr Lee believes that this is part of a "new normal" of less rapid but generally still bullish economic growth.