Several leading U.S. banks are expanding their presence in China while another institution is opening its first office there.

BankAmerica Corp. said Monday that it has obtained approval to convert its Beijing representative office to a branch immediately. The Beijing branch will offer commercial and investment banking services. The banking company already has branches in Shanghai and Guangzhou and a representative office in Dalian.

Chase Manhattan Corp. announced last month that it would open a branch in Shanghai, to go along with its branch in the northern port city of Tianjen and a representative office in Beijing.

And CoreStates Financial Corp. has disclosed that it will open a representative office in Beijing, its entry point to China.

Meanwhile, Citicorp, which has five offices in China, has confirmed that it obtained approval from Chinese regulators to engage in local-currency lending.

The latest round of expansion in China by U.S. banks underscores the intense interest among them in building up a presence in the rapidly expanding Chinese financial market.

"We view this as part of a long-term commitment to China," said Carter Booth, a managing director in Chase's Asia-Pacific unit. "Shanghai is a major financial city and a major link in our international financial network."

In announcing the decision to open a branch in Shanghai, Chase officials said the office should help them expand loan syndications, financial risk management, and other banking services such as trade finance and correspondent banking for multinational and Chinese clients.

Mr. Booth said the decision was not linked to a Chinese government decision to let foreign banks with offices in Shanghai engage in local- currency lending. But he added that Chase hoped to be able to engage in such lending.

Chase plans to focus its China operations on wholesale activities, with a special emphasis on financing for industrial sectors such as power, petroleum, metals and mining, aerospace, shipping, media, and telecommunications, Mr. Booth said.

In addition to planning a Beijing office, CoreStates also disclosed that it would open a branch in Seoul, South Korea.

A spokeswoman for CoreStates said the two planned openings are part of a broader international expansion by the Philadelphia banking company, which is also considering opening an office in India.

CoreStates has been gradually expanding its international network. In October, it opened a representative office in Dubai that will be a marketing and relationship hub for the bank in the Middle East.

Unlike its money-center counterparts, however, CoreStates has been pursuing a more narrowly focused strategy outside the United States, concentrating on trade finance and global payments processing both for itself and on behalf of other U.S. and foreign banks.

Separately, Citicorp, together with Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp., Tokyo-Mitsubishi Bank, and the Industrial Bank of Japan, have gained approval to engage in limited Chinese-currency lending.

Banking sources said the four companies would be required to limit their Chinese-currency lending to 35% of their total in China. The government had until now declined to let foreign banks engage in local-currency lending, mainly from fear that their competition would put Chinese banks at a disadvantage.

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