Citigroup announced on Wednesday that it had won regulatory approval to offer debit cards to customers in China, the Wall Street Journal reported. Foreign banks were first allowed to take yuan deposits in 2003 and started offering local currency services to individual customers in 2006. However, the regulator has been slow in permitting lenders to provide debit cards or ATM cards to their local-currency account holders. Until now, participation has been limited to joint venture credit card operations with local partners. By the end of 2007, 169 Chinese financial institutions had issued 1.5 million bank cards, according to China Unionpay. There were 120,000 ATMs were in operation across the country and 740,000 merchants accepted payment with plastic.