It was only five years ago that western lenders had the capital and confidence to spend tens of billions of dollars to acquire stakes in Chinese lenders. How times have changed.

The state-owned banking system was technically insolvent and its institutions riddled with bad debts and outmoded lending practices.

Beijing hoped that allowing in overseas investors would help to recapitalise its banks, modernise risk management and bolster sentiment ahead of planned initial public offerings by its top lenders.

Among the foreign lenders to snap up strategic stakes were HSBC, Bank of America and Royal Bank of Scotland, while investment banks, including Goldman Sachs and UBS, also made financial investments.

Whether the tie-ups should be judged a success is subject to fierce debate.

Bank of China and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China successfully listed in Hong Kong, and lending practices and risk management systems were transformed. Chinese lenders are now at the top of the global rankings by market capitalisation.

Guo Shuqing, chairman of China Construction Bank, has said publicly that the tie-ups with western banks were correct because they helped to accelerate reforms.

However, the banking world has been turned on its head following the global financial crisis.

Last year, the global financial industry witnessed stake sales in Chinese lenders, as many western lenders desperately sought to raise capital to bolster their own balance sheets.

Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS exited their stakes in BoC while Bank of America raised $10bn by selling half of its 20 per cent holding in CCB. All made handsome financial gains.

Beijing understood the reason for the sales but the divestments have strengthened the hands of sceptics who believe that western banks are not truly committed to China.

The last big Chinese lender yet to be listed, Agricultural Bank of China, is planning a blockbuster IPO this year – it is telling that few expect any western lenders to be invited to acquire a strategic stake.

Some financial groups have retained most of their stakes, such as Goldman in ICBC, but the focus for western lenders is now the development of their own retail banking franchise on the mainland.

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