Beijing, April 18:

The number of credit cards in China jumped by 22.7 per cent in 2006 to nearly 50 million as bank cards become the most popular non-cash payment instrument for individuals, the central bank said today.

Bank cards are now widely used and there is a constant increase in their usage, the People’s Bank of China said in a statement posted on its website. Foreign banks like global giants HSBC and Citigroup are competing for a foothold in China’s lucrative credit card market, where they are currently only allowed to issue co-branded cards with local partners.

Debit cards still held a dominant position, totaling 1.1 billion, or 95.6 per cent of all bank cards issued as of the end of 2006, according to the central bank.

Consumer transactions via bank cards rose by 97 per cent in 2006 to 1.9 trillion yuan ($244.8 billion), accounting for 17 per cent of the country’s retail sales last year, it said, as an increasingly affluent middle class lead a consumer revolution.