SINGAPORE Telecom says it has set up a HK$450 million joint venture to finance and construct China's first nationwide paging network, a move that will further raise hopes that foreigners will be able to invest in the mainland's telecommunications networks. One of the partners is a subsidiary of ING Beijing Investment Co, a closed-end investment trust listed on the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong. Singapore Telecom said yesterday a joint venture called Beijing Asia Pacific First Star Communications Technology Co would be set up which would 'finance and construct' a network which would initially operate in 45 cities and begin operations next month. The joint venture would also 'provide advisory support on the management and operations of the network'. Singapore Telecom officials were not available to explain whether the new joint venture would have a direct equity stake in the new network, or whether the stake would be in the form of bonds or convertible shares. Foreign investors have long been pursuing equity stakes in the mainland's booming telecommunications services sector but have been told that the sector is officially closed to foreign investors. Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Wu Jichuan last week told a conference in Beijing that foreigners 'will not hold equities or involve themselves in the operations and management of the telecommunications business'. Singapore Telecom's investment will be S$29 million (about HK$160.75 million) for the initial phase. The company is taking a 35 per cent stake. Other partners include Beijing Asia Pacific Telecommunication Technology and Development Co (BAPTTD), which is owned by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications and which, according to Singapore Telecom, is operating under China's 'first and currently the only nationwide radio paging licence'. An investment arm of the Beijing government called Beijing Jinfang Economy Development Co is a partner. Another partner is Asia Pacific (China) Electrical. Bloomberg reported that BAPTTD's share would be 21 per cent, Beijing Jinfang would hold one per cent, ING Beijing would take 18 per cent and Asia Pacific would take 25 per cent. Separately, Singapore Telecom announced that 37 year-old Lee Hsien Yang, son of Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, would be president and chief executive from May 1, 13 months after joining the firm. At the end of last year, there were about 10 million pagers in China, almost double 1993's figure of 5.6 million, according to official statistics. In 1992, the number was only 2.2 million. Of the paging venture, Singapore Telecom said: 'It will be the first network in China that provides nationwide roaming services.' 'Advanced automatic and operator-assisted services, as well as other value-added services, will also be made available through the network.'