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China nearing overhaul of big 3 telecom leadership

[BEIJING] China is close to reorganizing the leadership of its three main telecommunications companies as the government prepares to revamp the industry, people familiar with the matter said.

The chairman of China Mobile Ltd's parent company, Xi Guohua, will retire and be replaced by Ministry of Industry and Information Technology Vice Minister Shang Bing, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information hasn't been made public.

There also will be high-level personnel changes at the state-owned parents of China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd and China Telecom Corp Ltd, the people said.

Shares in all three companies rose Friday. China Telecom surged 6.9 per cent, the most in four months, to HK$4.65. China Unicom climbed 3.2 percent to HK$10.82. China Mobile gained 2.2 per cent to HK$100.30.

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The moves come as China plans for its biggest overhaul of state-owned enterprises since the late 1990s to bolster an economy that's headed for its slowest pace of growth in 25 years.

China Unicom Chairman Chang Xiaobing skipped a post- earnings press conference in Hong Kong on Friday to attend an important meeting in Beijing, President Lu Yimin told reporters without elaborating.

Mr Lu added that the company had not received any notice about management changes. Chang is also chairman of the listed company's state-owned parent.

Representatives at China Mobile and China Unicom said earlier they had no information to share on any management changes, while China Telecom spokesman Jacky Yung wasn't immediately available to comment. The information ministry, which oversees the telecommunications industry, said it couldn't comment.

As part of that effort, China's three telecommunications giants last year agreed to combine their phone tower assets into a holding company. The deadline for that asset injection is the end of October, China Unicom Chief Financial Officer Li Fushen told reporters on Friday.

As head of China Mobile, the world's biggest wireless carrier, Shang would take over a company with more than 800 million customers. The company this week reported its first quarterly profit increase in two years as government-mandated cuts in handset subsidies and growth in mobile Internet usage boosted margins.

The nation's carriers are facing competition from over-the- top services that bypass traditional voice and short-message offerings, while at the same time equipment and handset makers are seeking to enter the mobile operator business, China Mobile said Thursday during its earnings release.

China Tower Co, the state venture that will take over the three operators' mobile phone towers, is said to plan a sale of as much as a 20 per cent stake in a private placement, raising as much as 60 billion yuan ($9.4 billion), people with knowledge of the matter said in July.

Tower consolidation will boost efficiency as carriers roll out faster networks, they said last year.