NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Citibank won approval to issue its own credit card in China, making it the first non-Asian bank to enter that market.
The approval from Chinese banking authorities was announced by the bank's parent, Citigroup (C, Fortune 500), Monday. The card is expected to be issued sometime later this year.
"This approval represents a significant milestone in the continued expansion of Citi's business in China, a priority market for Citi," said Stephen Bird, CEO of Citi's Asia Pacific unit.
Citi has had a co-branded credit card in China since 2004 through a joint venture with Shanghai Pudong Development Bank (SPDB). But those card holders are considered to be SPDB's customers, not Citi's. Citi has 16 million other credit card customers elsewhere in Asia.
The Bank of East Asia, based in a Hong Kong, is the only other bank from outside of China that's permitted to issue cards by itself in the country.
The United States, through the World Trade Organization, been pushing China to open its market to U.S. credit card and debit card issuers without the use of domestic joint venture partners which the Chinese regulators typically require.
For example, last month Citi won approval to establish a joint-venture securities firm in China, together with Orient Securities Company Ltd. The entity, Citi Orient Securities Co Ltd, will be based in Shanghai, and will engage in investment banking business in the Chinese domestic market, including securities underwriting, as approved by China Securities Regulatory Commission.
General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) is another example of a U.S. firm that is forced to operate only with joint venture partners. It has the leading share of the rapidly-growing Chinese market for autos, which is the now the largest in the world. But virtually all those sales are through various joint ventures that GM has with Chinese automakers.