A new Visa credit card offered by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China is targeting Chinese consumers traveling abroad.
The Peony-Visa International credit card allows cardholders to make purchases and withdraw money in local currencies from ATMs outside China, which industry experts say is uncommon.
Visa says the Peony product is the first card offered by a Chinese bank to offer ATM access in other countries.
Most cards issued in China, similar to some cards issued in parts of Latin America and eastern Europe, are debit cards that are restricted to domestic use.
A limited number of international MasterCard cards in China have been issued to people in elite positions, such as senior government officials, said David Robertson, president of The Nilson Report, an Oxnard, Calif., newsletter.
Sean Healy, a spokesman for MasterCard, said that only 630 of the 10 million MasterCards issued in China are designated for international use. It began offering such cards in 1988 through the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.
There are 8.2 million Visa cards in China, but most can be used only domestically, said Mr. Robertson.
"The 18 million Visa and MasterCard cards are nothing" compared with the potential that the Chinese market represents, said James L. Accomando, a Fairfield, Conn.-based consultant who is working on Diners Club projects in China. "There is an incredible feeling about China, that it is ripe for the picking," he said.
In terms of charge volume, China is MasterCard's second-largest market behind the United States. For 1995 MasterCard reported volume of $53.6 billion, which was 46% of the association's total volume for the Asia/Pacific region. Numbers for Visa were not available.
American Express offers a U.S. dollar charge card, a spokeswoman said. She said the only difference between it and Visa's offering is the dual currency feature.
Members of the Chinese delegation to the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta were the first recipients of the Peony card, which will be available nationwide. Card rates and fees were not available.
In China, the Peony transactions will be settled in renminbi, and international transactions will be settled in dollars.
ICBC, which also offers MasterCard, recently introduced a cobranded Visa card with the Jiao Tong University in Shanghai. The card offers discounts at facilities on campus and on goods purchased from university subsidiaries.