BRITISH insurance giant Prudential yesterday opened a Hong Kong office as part of a plan to spend US$13 billion expanding its presence in Asia's insurance industry. Group chief executive Peter Davis said while Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia were also on the agenda, the group's main aim was to secure a licence to operate in China. 'China will be our focus,' Mr Davis said. He predicted income from mainland operations would make up 50 per cent of the Hong Kong arm's total income in three decades. The group was waiting to see if it would be among two foreign insurance groups to be granted a mainland licence and was opening the Hong Kong office to prepare itself. Prudential already had representative offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou to tap the market for insurance services and supply technical and managerial systems to the infant industry. At its new office, the company would be training staff and creating a core team containing about a dozen trainees. Mr Davis said the team would then be sent to China to develop the insurer's business base. Prudential had committed itself to setting up an infrastructure fund, making investments on the Shanghai stock exchange and sponsoring sporting and cultural exchange activities across the border. Mr Davis said these were more than just friendly moves designed to show the company's commitment. He said Prudential had pumped US$50 million into Shanghai B shares and had boosted its investment in infrastructure funds. In Hong Kong, the company said it had reported substantial income growth this year. General manager Eddie Fong said Prudential's annualised premium income surged by about 50 per cent in the first nine months of the year.