China’s UnionPay starts operations in Armenia

YEREVAN/Oct. 15 — UnionPay, the Chinese card payment system that was set up in 2002 to rival Visa and Mastercard, signed a deal to enter the Armenian market, one of the countries in the region where it had been lacking a presence.

As well as extending UnionPay’s reach, the deal highlights the spread of China’s economic power across the region. In a statement after signing the deal with Armenia’s ACBA-Credit Agricole Bank, UnionPay said that it was now accepted by 70% of businesses and terminals across Central Asia and the South Caucasus.

“This partnership is a result of the deepening bilateral cooperation between China and Armenia,” Tian Erlong, China’s ambassador to Armenia, said. “It is also a measure for implementing the Belt and Road Initiative.”

Owned by China’s state-owned banks, UnionPay is often seen as operating in a way to extend China’s foreign policy objectives, including its Belt and Road economic push across Central Asia and the South Caucasus.

UnionPay has overtaken Visa as the world’s most-used Payment networks. A report in 2018 by the industry newsletter Nilson Report said that UnionPay accounted for 44% of the world’s financial payments, compared to 32.8% by Visa payments.

Arsen Melkonyan, deputy CEO of ACBA-Credit Agricole Bank, said that UnionPay’s acceptance in Armenia would be a boost for both tourism and business from China.

“UnionPay cardholders from China and other countries will now easily use their cards in our country,” he said.

“This is an important step towards strengthening the cooperation between our countries and we are proud to have our contribution to this important undertaking.”


— This story was first published in issue 425 of the weekly Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin on Oct. 16 2019

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