China’s Banking Surge in Russia: A Calculated Move Western Banks Failed to Anticipate

Maya Onga Author and Columnist
John Deer Jeje Laye
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China’s Banking Surge in Russia: A Calculated Move Western Banks Failed to Anticipate

Not so long ago, Western banks, with their rose-tinted glasses, believed they had found a goldmine in China. Even as the storm clouds of geopolitical tensions gathered, these banks seemed to be thriving. But by 2020, the tone of discussion changed. Skepticism slowly stated becoming the talk of the town, the writing was on the wall. Yet, astonishingly, keeping the faith with bold intentions the professional and financial services sectors chose to turn a blind eye.


  1. Western banks’ once-flourishing presence in China now seems like a short-lived fairy tale amidst escalating geopolitical tensions.
  2. The audacious sidelining of US consultancies in China, especially the blatant raid on Bain & Company, should be a wake-up call.
  3. Chinese banks’ aggressive funding of Russian banks is a clear challenge to the dollar’s dominance and a slap in the face for Western financial complacency.
  4. The retreat of Western banks from Russia and China’s opportunistic financial involvement could solidify a Sino-Russian alliance, further sidelining Western economic influence.

However, recent events suggest that this financial sector immunity might be waning. The sidelining of US consultancies, exemplified by the April raid on Bain & Company, stands as a testament to this changing dynamic. It’s intriguing that Western banks in China have remained relatively unscathed for so long, especially considering the sanctions imposed on Russian banks following their invasion of Ukraine. These sanctions, which restricted Russian banks from dollar-based international financial markets, have sparked global criticism over the weaponization of the dollar. In response, China and other BRICS nations have expressed intentions to challenge the dollar’s dominance.

While there hasn’t been overt hostility towards Western banks in China, there are indications that the tide might be turning. A senior US ambassador noted that while US banks were actively pursued in China a couple of years ago, the situation has changed post the Bain incident. The ambassador expressed concerns that US banks might be the next targets.

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A recent report by the Financial Times further underscores this shift. It revealed that Chinese banks, bypassing Western sanctions and regulatory pressures, have become significant foreign financiers for Russian banks. Leading Chinese banks, including the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Bank of China, China Construction Bank, and Agricultural Bank of China, have substantially increased their exposure to Russia. Notably, these transactions are being conducted in yuan rather than dollars. This raises questions about whether Chinese banks are converting the yuan using their access to dollars through reserves and affiliations with Western banks.

Such developments are bound to raise alarms for Western banks operating in China. Concerns are emerging in areas like lending, investment banking, and cash management and clearing when interacting with Chinese banks. Regulatory bodies will likely urge banks to reassess these risks, especially in light of China’s increasingly assertive stance against Western interests.

Major US banks, along with institutions like Standard Chartered and HSBC, which have significant stakes in Greater China, will be most impacted by these developments.

However, it’s essential to note that while Chinese banks are expanding in Russia, several Western banks still maintain a strong presence there. Data from the Kyiv School of Economics indicates that Austria’s Raiffeisen and Italy’s UniCredit remain dominant financiers in Russia. Both banks have expressed intentions to reduce their Russian assets, though there are discrepancies between their claims and the data from KSE.

The evolving financial dynamics suggest a deepening Sino-Russian alliance, especially if Western banks continue their withdrawal. This shift could challenge recent US efforts to decouple from China and might also hinder President Xi Jinping’s ambitions to internationalize the renminbi. As a former HSBC executive pointed out, the West’s acceptance of the renminbi could diminish as China strengthens its ties with Russia.

In conclusion, the global financial landscape is undergoing significant transformations. As Western banks reassess their positions in China and Russia, the emerging Sino-Russian financial axis could reshape global economic and geopolitical dynamics.