GOP lawmakers press for market access after China takeover of US bank branches

The debate came one week after the Federal Reserve, for the first time, approved the purchase of U.S. bank branches by a Chinese bank. The move allowed the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, which is 70 percent owned by the Chinese government, to take an 80 percent stake in a Hong Kong-based bank with 13 branches in the United States. The Fed also allowed two other Chinese banks to open branches in New York and Chicago.

That move initially garnered little public response from lawmakers, but several Republicans aired their concerns about the move at the hearing.

Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.) said the White House wasted an opportunity to pressure China to open its markets more when it signed off on the bank deal.

"Why didn’t the Federal Reserve if possible take that opportunity, or the government take that opportunity, to say 'I think it’s time we talk about the same access' ?" he asked. "We allow them to do that, but they don’t allow us to do that. Is there a problem there?"

Lael Brainard, the Treasury Department's under secretary for international affairs, assured lawmakers that the government is committed to getting China to open its markets to U.S. interests.

"We fully agree with you. ... We're going to continue to push," she said. "We do take every opportunity to demand market access."

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the panel, was also critical of China's uneven policies, calling in her opening statement for "the elimination of discriminatory treatment of foreign investors."