updated 8/18/2005 8:10:57 AM ET 2005-08-18T12:10:57

The Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC announced a major move into the Chinese market Thursday, heading up a $3.1 billion investment in Bank of China that will give the British bank control of a 10 percent stake.

RBS is contributing $1.6 billion of the investment in Bank of China, China’s second largest bank, giving it a direct stake of just over 5 percent. But it will take control of the full 10 percent on behalf of co-investors Merrill Lynch and Li Ka-shing, the Hong Kong-based tycoon who controls the conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa Ltd.

The announcement followed weeks of speculation that RBS, Europe’s second largest lender, would take up a stake in the Chinese bank. Shares of the British bank rose 2.5 percent to $29.74 (1,647 pence) in London trading.

“The combination of Bank of China’s brand, distribution and customer base with RBS’s product and operational strengths and experience will be powerful in the Chinese market,” said RBS Chairman George Mathewson, adding that the group had no plans to increase the size of its investment.

The deal, which is subject to regulatory approval, will give RBS access to a bank with 11,307 branches, a 12 percent share of the loan market in mainland China and 14 percent of the savings market.

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