Anheuser-Busch InBev has maintained that it remains committed to the Chinese beer market, despite the sale of part of its stake in Tsingtao Brewery in the country.

Earlier today (23 January), A-B InBev announced that it will sell a 20% stake in Tsingtao to Japanese brewer Asahi for US$667m. The company will retain a 7% stake in the Chinese brewing giant.

Late last year, InBev acquired Anheuser-Busch, which held the 27% stake in Tsingtao, for US$52bn. The transaction was cleared by China's Ministry of Commerce in November, on the condition that the new entity would not up its stake in Tsingtao or InBev's 28.56% stake in Zhujiang Brewery in the country.

"This sale is part of our divestment programme to help pay for the acquisition of Anheuser-Busch last year," a spokesperson for A-B InBev told just-drinks. "Our CEO, Carlos Brito, has said very clearly that we remain firmly committed to China."

The spokesperson highlighted that the transaction was not related in any way to the conditions set out by the Ministry of Commerce. "The attractive valuation and the ability to conclude the deal quickly made this sale possible," the spokesperson said.

"Despite this divestiture, we are still number three in China, and we still own 20 breweries in the country."

One analyst told just-drinks today that InBev has previously made no secret of problems on the Chinese market, "particularly about its inability to develop a holistic country strategy due to conflicts with its Chinese partners".

She agreed that A-B InBev remained committed to China,  as one of the world's most promising beer markets, but wanted to do things "on its own terms". 

Speculation has grown about other possible disposals in the pipeline at A-B InBev. The brewer still needs to raise US$3bn to cover repayments on a loan taken out to fund the Anheuser acquisition and due this November.

When asked about reports that A-B InBev is considering selling Oriental Brewery in South Korea, the company spokesperson said: "There has been a lot of speculation, but we've never confirmed this. We have lots of options and we remain on-track with our divestiture programme."

Analyst group Bernstein said in a note today that an Oriental sale may prove tricky, because several potential buyers, including Lotte Group and Kirin, were already involved in acquisition deals.