(Bloomberg) -- BlackRock Inc.’s head of China operations resigned, adding to the company’s challenges as competition intensifies in the 130 trillion yuan ($18 trillion) asset management market.

Tony Tang “expressed an interest in exploring opportunities outside BlackRock,” the company said in an e-mailed statement. Susan Chan, deputy head of APAC and head of Greater China, will now directly oversee business in the country as the world’s largest asset manager says it remains committed to the market. 

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“China represents a significant opportunity for BlackRock to contribute to the financial futures of a new generation of investors, and we will continue to focus on developing market-leading investment management solutions for investors in China,” a spokesperson said. “There is no change to our strategy or commitment on China.”

The departure of Tang, a veteran of the Chinese asset management industry and a former regulatory official, nonetheless adds uncertainty to BlackRock’s lead among global players as competitors including Fidelity International Ltd. and Amundi SA accelerate forays. 

During Tang’s four years at the firm, BlackRock became the first global player to start a wholly-owned mutual fund business in 2021. Its wealth management joint venture remains the only foreign participant in China’s private pension program, which UBS Group AG estimated could grow to about $25 trillion by 2060. 

Global rivals are catching up. Fidelity and Neuberger Berman have started raising money after winning permission for their wholly-owned fund businesses late last year, while Manulife Financial Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley have bought full control of their local joint ventures. 

A spokesperson said BlackRock places “high priority” on China. Chan was appointed to its decision-making Global Executive Committee last year. “This has been instrumental in sharpening the focus of global leadership on our China onshore business.” Reuters first reported the resignation. 

While BlackRock’s fund unit has amassed 6.4 billion yuan in assets as of March 31, the renewed declines in the local stock market have made launches challenging, as the nation’s economic recovery loses momentum. Only 81 new funds were launched last month as of May 26 with a combined 20.7 billion units, close to the lowest level in eight years, the Shanghai Securities News reported May 30. 

Its wealth management venture with China Construction Bank Corp. and Temasek Holdings Pte managed more than 10 billion yuan as of April 30, after more than doubling assets in the second half of last year, according to filings. 

BlackRock also replaced the head of that wealth unit, less than two years after it began operation. The company is preparing its first product for the individual pension trials, the Securities Times reported last month, citing an interview with General Manager Fan Hua.  

Fan, Chi Zhang, the general manager of the fund management unit, and other direct reports of Tang will now report to Chan, the company said. 

(Updates with fund market data in eighth paragaph, direct reports at the end)

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