From Beijing, A Hint Of Cellular Fever

Although China has courted foreign investment in many sectors of its economy, concerns about national security have kept the telephone system almost entirely off-limits--even though the nation stumbles along with just 38 phones per 100,000 urban residents. Now, though, there is a sign that China is willing to reconsider foreign ownership in its telecommunications industry. A small Canadian company says it has been invited to visit China in May--along with one of the U. S.'s seven Baby Bells--to explore investing in a cellular-phone franchise in Sichuan, a province of 120 million people. Wild Rose Resources Ltd. in Vancouver, B. C., says it has obtained a right to a 40% interest in cellular systems in Sichuan in return for investing about $10 million to expand them. It hopes the Baby Bell, which it hasn't identified, will become its partner. Will the deal come off? Sidney Gorham, an analyst at Pyramid Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., says it's not a sure bet. For the Chinese, he says: "It would be a dramatic shift."

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