China is embarking on the biggest consolidation of its banking industry by merging hundreds of rural lenders into regional behemoths amid growing signs of financial stress.

After engineering mergers of rural cooperatives and rural commercial banks in at least seven provinces since 2022, policymakers pinpointed tackling risks at the $6.7 trillion sector as one of its top priorities for this year.

That means another wave of consolidation is on the way across the nation.