The China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC) has forced three foreign insurance firms' mainland representative offices to close for breaching insurance regulations. The representative offices belong to two American insurance firms and a Hong Kong-based company, according to Xinhua. They have been operating in Beijing since 1993 and 1994. CIRC officials said the three firms did not notify the authorities of the change of their addresses or did not issue annual reports on their performance and results. The officials said the acts had seriously violated regulations on representative offices of foreign insurance firms. They said the representative offices had not fulfilled their basic duties stipulated in the insurance regulations. The authorities said these offices could facilitate exchanges between local and foreign operators in the industry but some of them had frequently breached the regulations. CIRC said it would increase monitoring of the operation of foreign insurance firms' representative offices. The punishment is believed to be part of Beijing's move to shake up foreign-owned insurance operations before the mainland opens up the sector further under recent agreements with members of the World Trade Organisation. Foreign insurance companies would be allowed to take a maximum 50 per cent stake in life insurance ventures upon mainland accession to the WTO, expected this year. They would be allowed a 51 per cent stake in non-life insurance companies. They would also be allowed to gradually expand services to include health, pensions and group insurance. By the end of last year, there were about 200 representative offices of 113 foreign insurance companies operating in the mainland's 14 leading cities.