Apple Pay is about to launch in China. An ICBC representative said that it was launching on February 18 on WeChat. But you don’t have to look that far as Apple itself details Apple Pay’s launch on its Chinese website.
The company is partnering with UnionPay, the overwhelmingly dominant payment network in China (ahead of Visa, MasterCard and American Express). And like in the U.S. and the U.K., Apple is also partnering with the biggest local banks so that they support Apple Pay from day one. 19 banks are on board, including ABC, CCB, CMB, ICBC and more.
This is only the third “real” rollout for Apple Pay after the U.S. and Canada. Apple Pay is also available in Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Spain, but the service only supports American Express cards in those countries. Apple has had troubles signing partnerships with banks in some countries and has chosen to partner exclusively with American Express for now.
But this week’s Chinese launch is different as it’s a full rollout. Chinese banks are on board. This is a big win for Apple as China is one of the most important markets for the company with tens of millions of people using an iPhone 6, 6 Plus or later.
Apple will compete with two heavyweight competitors — Alibaba’s AliPay and WeChat’s wallet. These two services didn’t start with an NFC payment system but provide the same level of abstraction when it comes to payments. AliPay is the dominating payment system for online payments, and WeChat’s wallet lets you pay for all sorts of things.
You can use WeChat’s wallet in convenience store, to pay for taxi rides, to top up your prepaid mobile plan, to send money to friends and more. It’s going to be interesting to see whether Apple can capture market share in such a competitive market. According to iGen, Apple is also working on rolling out Apple Pay in France.
Also worth noting, PayPal has been struggling for years in China to get a license to operate in China. For instance, PayPal can’t partner with Chinese e-commerce websites to add PayPal as a payment option. Once again, Apple shows that it has a great relationship with Chinese institutions.