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Getting the measure of the dragon

China is a massive liberalizing market. Does this mean big opportunities for foreigners to make money? Up to a point perhaps – size of this order is difficult for outsiders to get a grip of and domestic institutions will in any case want the biggest share.

INVESTING IN CHINA is fraught with contradictions for foreigners. In some quarters, the conventional wisdom is developing that outsiders can't succeed in China, and the trail is indeed littered with high-profile examples of failure, such as US auto makers. But these haven't succeeded in overcoming a conviction that with the right product, the right people and the right strategy you have a massive number - currently 1.3 billion - of potential customers.

Certainly in the past few years some people have made serious money in China, especially in retailing and mobile telecoms. Now it's the turn of the world's financial institutions to decide whether to take on China's domestic markets.

In the wake of China's accession to the World Trade Organization last December, the People's Republic has committed itself to opening up financial services to foreign institutions. The fiercely competitive negotiations of the US and the EU over what to prize open highlights the size and importance of these markets to international financial institutions.

Now it's decision time - or, perhaps, indecision time. Banks can see the huge potential but also the potential dangers.

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