Beijing is allowing a domestic insurance company to bring in foreign investment partners, raising hopes it will further open its tightly controlled insurance market soon. Individual foreign investors are allowed to own up to 5 per cent and a combined total of up to 20 per cent of Taikang Life Insurance, a small Beijing-based domestic firm. Under a State Council ruling, Taikang, one of the country's five home-grown national life insurance companies, has six months to find partners. Three years ago, Shenzhen-based Ping An Insurance won approval to sell stakes to foreign investors. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter and Goldman Sachs together own 6.77 per cent of Ping An. Industry analysts expect Beijing to allow more domestic insurance companies to partner foreigners, opening the way for greater foreign participation in the market expected to be worth US$30 billion next year. Beijing has permitted Taikang to enlarge its share capital from 600 million shares to one billion shares, including 200 million shares of foreign capital, the Beijing-based Economic Daily reported yesterday. But company officials declined to specify the value of the capital expansion. As part of the move, Taikang shareholders and mainland-based enterprises would be allowed to subscribe to the new Taikang shares. There is no limit to the stake each mainland company can own in Taikang. Taikang official Chen Nanyan yesterday said the company had talked with foreign companies, including firms from Europe and the US, as well as domestic companies, on equity participation. No deal had been concluded. 'The company hopes that foreign partners will help boost its competitiveness by bringing in foreign management and operational expertise,' she said. Last year, Taikang's premium income plunged to 487 million yuan (about HK$454.61 million) from 1997's 829 million yuan amid the difficult financial environment. In a further development in the industry, Shanghai-based Tianan Insurance on Tuesday won approval to expand its capital from 200 million yuan to 450 million yuan. The move will enable the company to boost its ability to offset risk.