China has officially opened its doors to payment companies from beyond its borders, this week unveiling the formal rules for foreign companies applying for bank-clearing privileges.

The move comes after China's State Council released new rules a year ago.

Visa and MasterCard previously have expressed interest in expanding their operations to China beyond some limited existing agreements.

China has about 5 billion payment cards in circulation and analysts estimate its payment market is worth about $8.4 trillion.

Chinese and foreign payment companies that have been in business for at least five years may apply for bank-clearing privileges, China said. Foreign issuers will be expected to hold about $152 million in capital in a Chinese company to participate, the rules indicate.

Applicants will be notified of their status within 90 days of applying, China's central bank said.

Currently China UnionPay, the country's state-operated payments company, is the only entity approved to provide bank-clearing services in China. Other companies, such as the Alibaba payments affiliate Alipay, operate payment services but cannot issue cards.

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