Prudential plc, the second biggest insurance company in the UK, has been awarded an eighth operating license in China, increasing its lead over rival Aviva in the battle to expand in Asia's most vibrant life insurance market.

Prudential Chinese life insurance joint venture, CITIC Prudential Life, has been awarded a life insurance license for Zhongshan, in Southern China. The award is the UK-headquartered company’s eighth in China, making it the largest European life insurer in the country.

Situated in the Pearl River Delta in the economically significant Guangdong Province, Zhongshan is conveniently situated between Guangzhou and Hong Kong. The city has a population of over 2.5 million and in 2004 the GDP of Zhongshan was GBP3.6 billion, an increase of 19% over the previous year.

Captain Chia, CEO of China CITIC Prudential Life, commented: With offices in Guangzhou, Dongguan, Foshan and now Zhongshan, CITIC Prudential has established a powerful presence in Southern China. I look forward to leveraging this strong presence as we continue to expand our life insurance business across all of China.

The Zhongshan approval marks Prudential’s four license award in 2005, meaning that the insurer has doubled its portfolio of Chinese city operating approvals this year alone.

Prudential’s biggest rival in its domestic market, Aviva, made up significant ground in the contest for Chinese licenses when its own approvals for the cities of Zhongshan and Mianyang in March expanded its total to five. However, Prudential’s latest round of progress has reestablished its clear leading position.