75th anniversary of Bank of China branch in Sydney and some interesting history…

September 15, 2017
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Philip Lowe, chief of Reserve Bank of Australia shares some history from the Archives at the 75th anniversary.

Back in 1940s it was much easier to open a bank branch in Australia and tougher for people to travel to the country. How global banks and finance is built over the years is a tale of many a struggle:

The story of how the Bank of China came to establish a branch in Australia in 1942 is a story of resilience and friendship.

Over recent weeks I have had the opportunity to read about this story through the yellowed pages of the Reserve Bank’s archives. When conflict came to Singapore in 1942, Mr Parkane Hwang from the Bank of China’s Singapore branch decamped to what was then known as Batavia. From there, he sought a visa to travel to Australia to establish a branch of the Bank of China in Sydney. It must have been a difficult and stressful time.

True to Australia’s welcoming nature, especially to those in need, the visa was granted. By midyear, the branch was in operation, with Mr Hwang’s deputy from the Singapore branch, Mr S.C. Lu, as its representative. In those days it was quicker to get a banking licence than it is today! It is clear fro our archives that the granting of this licence was a significant sign of friendship by Australia towards China. It was very unusual at the time to grant such licences.

Upon the licence being granted, one of my predecessors as Governor – Governor H.T. Armitage of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which at the time carried out central banking functions – wrote to Mr Lu to congratulate the Bank of China on the new branch. I would like to read from that letter,
as 75 years later I could not have put it better myself. Governor Armitage wrote:

‘I feel sure that the entry of your Bank into the Australian Banking System will not only be of inestimable value in facilitating business relationships between China and Australia, but will also help to foster the increasing bond of friendship between our respective countries.’ Seventy-five years on, this sentiment remains just as valid as it was in 1942, despite the tremendous change in both our countries since.

Our files show that it was some years before the Bank of China’s branch in Australia was able to turn a profit – a problem that has now been fixed. When the branch was first established, it was very restricted in its operations. It was limited to operating accounts for the Chinese Government and
officials and for Chinese nationals visiting Australia. Notwithstanding these restrictions, it quickly established a presence in Australia. 

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