Bank troubleshooters take finance fight to Shenzhen

Carrie Lee

IN a move which brings China's austerity drive right to Hongkong's doorstep, the People's Bank of China has set up a special task force in Shenzhen to restore order to the Special Economic Zone's financial system.

According to the official Shenzhen Special Zone Daily, a committee, headed by the branch chief, has been set up to carry out the task.

With Shenzhen at the heart of Guangdong, the fastest growing province on the mainland and regarded by many as the most independent, the move is seen by some analysts as part of the drive by Vice-Premier Zhu Rongji to enforce his austerity drive throughout the country.

The team, which is believed to have arrived in Shenzhen, is expected to study the city's financial situation before exercising its powers.

If it decides that the financial sector is getting out of control and fuelling excessive growth it may take firm action to push it back into line.

Among the measures it could take would be: Cleaning up lending and borrowing, and recalling, within a designated period, loans which break lending rules; Strictly implementing the regulations governing banks, trusts and securities, and separating banks from their non-banking businesses; Controlling the amount of credit, cutting property lending, curbing unreasonable capital usage; Strengthening interest rate management and controlling money supply; Reinforcing the administration of foreign banks which remit money overseas for Chinese enterprises, tightening auditing, and stepping up monitoring.

Details of the measures would be released later this month, said the paper.

Other banks in the city have set up similar committees to recall illegal loans and to act in line with the Government's austerity drive, an authoritative financial source was quoted as saying.

Shenzhen shares the country's economic problems including soaring inflation and rampant property speculation.

''These problems are apparent in Shenzhen, although they may not be any more serious than elsewhere in China,'' said Benjamin Chan Sau-san, the head of the economic research department at the Bank of East Asia.

The Shenzhen paper listed three major complaints about the city's financial system.

It alleged that volumes of lending and borrowing and the uses of capital were unreasonable, while credit was being used largely for property development - regarded as an inefficient application of funds.

It also complained that a number of banks were linked with subsidiaries engaged in real estate and securities.

Major worries looming over Shenzhen included the slow-down of the savings growth rate and the drop in funds channelled back to the country, says the Shenzhen paper.

But Mr Chan said Shenzhen's financial situation was already better than some other cities as it suffered less from a shortage of capital.

Its financial system was being driven by capital flowing in from other provinces, and by more foreign-funded banks than in other parts of China.