SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China mobile payment giants Alipay and WeChat Pay have started allowing overseas users to link their accounts to international bank cards, in a move cheered by foreign payment firms like Visa and Mastercard.
The moves came during a major import fair in Shanghai aimed at showcasing the country's free trade credentials.
Tencent, the parent company of WeChat Pay, said on Wednesday it was opening up in a statement on one of its official websites, while Alibaba-backed Alipay announced the change on its official media service platform.
A significant portion of transactions in China are made through the platforms, which previously only accepted Chinese bank accounts. Users use Alipay and WeChat Pay for daily tasks such as paying bills, buying groceries or booking taxis.
"The inconvenience of not being able to use the widely adopted local mobile payments is becoming a major pain point for overseas people living in or visiting mainland China," Tencent said in an e-mailed statement.
Both platforms will now allow users to link international cards by Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover Global Network and JCB to their accounts.
U.S. digital payment company Visa Inc said "This partnership means that we’ll be working towards an environment where Visa cardholders will be able to use their Visa card in China at the millions of places where WeChat Pay is accepted."
Mastercard said in a statement on Thursday that it saw this as a move to expand choices for travelers with Mastercard cards.
China has long been dogged by allegations of protectionism, a practice that has floored attempts by foreign payment firms to access what will be the largest bank card market by 2020.
American Express Co last year won approval to clear card payments in China, becoming the first U.S. card network to gain direct access.
State newspaper Beijing News reported in January that Mastercard Inc had submitted application materials in 2017 but voluntarily withdrew its application in June 2018. Chinese media reported in March that Mastercard had resubmitted its application. Mastercard declined to comment.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Additional reporting by Li Pei in Shanghai and Shanghai newsroom; Writing by Engen Tham; Editing by Louise Heavens & Simon Cameron-Moore)