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Wen Calls Chinese Banks 'Monopoly' That Must Be Split

The company logo of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China [ICBC] is seen during a news conference announcing its annual results, in Hong Kong, March 29, 2012.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao says the country's biggest state-owned banks are a monopoly and need to be broken up.

Wen said the banks - with guaranteed profits on loans - are making too much money. In remarks published Wednesday on the website of the state-run radio network, the Chinese leader said the banks' control of lending is limiting the growth of independent businesses in the world's second largest economy.

In a blunt attack on the country's economic structure, Wen said, "Let me honestly say that our banks are making a profit too easily."

He said would-be borrowers find it "very difficult" to get loans from other than the biggest banks. He said the banking monopoly needs to be broken up to ease private capital into the country's economy.

China's major banks have reported strong profits, even as the country's economy slows. China's biggest lender, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, reported that its net profits increased 26 percent last year. Three other big banks - the Bank of China, the China Construction Bank and the Agriculture Bank of China - all reported similar earnings.

Anger has grown at the largest banks, however, for the low interest rates they pay on deposits and fees they charge customers. Independent businesses have resorted to borrowing money from underground sources at high interest rates after being rejected by the major banks.

The growth of China's economy has slowed. It grew 9.2 percent last year and 10.4 percent in 2010, but is expected to slow even further this year.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.