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State-owned China Unicom ready to invite private investors

Chinese internet technology giants including Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent are likely to become the first batch of private investors with shares in government-owned telecom operators.

China Unicom, one of the three major telecom operators in China, announced on Wednesday that it is poised to invite private-sector investors to the government-backed company -- a test case that serves as the country's reform of state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

The move, known as "mixed-ownership-reform plans", has been pushed by the Chinese government to draw private capital into the SOEs in a bid to vitalize them. All the three major operators including China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom are government-backed enterprises.

Hong Kong-listed China Unicom said its parent, China United Network Communications, "is contemplating, developing, and progressing significant matters relating to the mixed ownership reform".

As a platform for the mixed ownership reform, it may potentially involve a change in the shareholding structure of its Shanghai-listed parent, according to a filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange on Wednesday.

"As the related plan for these matters is still under further deliberation, these matters are still subject to substantial uncertainty," the statement said.

China Unicom is world's sixth-largest mobile network operator in terms of subscribers, which reached 265.6 million as of the end of February this year.

In September, 2016, the National Development and Reform Commission -- the top economic planning body in China -- chose six state-owned enterprises in a pilot program for the mixed-ownership reform, which included China Unicom's parent company.

Over the past few month, China Unicom has inked deals with all the three major internet firms in China: Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent, leaving speculation that these Chinese internet giants will become the first batch of private investors to participate in the government's mixed-ownership reform.