BANK of East Asia has struck a deal in principle to acquire 51 per cent of United Chinese Bank. The addition of United Chinese's 17 outlets will boost East Asia's presence in the territory. Though the combined network of about 80 outlets will be smaller than the Hongkong Bank, Hang Seng Bank and the Bank of China group the gap will be significantlynarrowed. The sale agreement is expected to be signed in a few weeks pending finalisation of details. But the transaction is subject to the approval of the Banking Commission and the Stock Exchange of Hongkong. It is understood the banking watchdog has been supportive of the deal so far. Some terms had been tailored to meet its requirements. The negotiating parties, for example, had planned for East Asia to take only partial control of United Chinese so that the two banks would co-operate as equal partners. But Banking Commissioner Mr David Carse is understood to favour having a party taking majority control. No cash will change hands, at the request of United Chinese's controlling shareholder Mr Yee Shiu-kee. He favoured a share swap and was keen to dispel speculation that he might be in need of cash. Mr Yee, in his 90s, founded United Chinese in Hongkong half a century ago in Hongkong after a prominent career as a general of the Chinese National Army. This connection is believed to have given United Chinese an edge in Taiwan. On the insistence of Mr Yee, United Chinese will continue to trade under its name after the ownership change. According to United Chinese's executive director Mr Lau Sui, Mr Yee would not have agreed to the deal if the name of United Chinese was to be dropped. Sources said Mr Yee was prepared to relinquish control in the belief that a stronger partner will help United Chinese grow. The bank is expected to benefit significantly from the link with East Asia, particularly in computer and management resources.