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Apple Pay is coming to China in a big way

Nonbanks are disrupting the payments space. Justin Sullivan/Getty

Apple is teaming up with China UnionPay to bring its payment platform to China next year, “as soon as” it has been cleared by Chinese regulators.

China UnionPay operates China’s national inter-bank clearing and settlement system. As a credit card issuer in China, it claims 5 billion cards in circulation and 6 million merchants across the country.

UnionPay processed $US 1.9 trillion in payments in the first three months of 2015.

China is seen as a key battleground for payments, as it is projected to be the biggest bank card market by 2020 and is only just being opened to new entrants.

Visa and Mastercard started building up their physical infrastructure in the country this year. The Chinese Central Bank began accepting applications for new settlement networks – including foreign ones, in June.

The partnership between Apple and UnionPay also comes just days after UnionPay partnered with a British payments company, Powa, to develop a payments app for China.

These new entrants face some entrenched incumbents. Alipay, the mobile wallet created by e-commerce giant Alibaba, claimed 82.3% of non-bank mobile payments in 2014. Tenpay, created by another Chinese tech giant, Tencent, accounted for 10.6%.

Further, WeChat, a Chinese messaging app which counts 600 million active users, is a platform with 10 million 3rd party apps. Including many in the payments space.

Android Pay had also been reported to enter China this year, also partnering with Union Pay. But the company has not yet announced anything. Google famously withdrew from China a number of years ago.

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