Sina.com's listing on the Nasdaq market in the United States is likely to be one of the most keenly awaited Internet offerings since Chinadotcom's debut last year. Sina.com confirmed yesterday it had filed an application with the Securities and Exchange Commission to raise US$57.8 million after expenses through a share sale, ending months of speculation and conflicting reports over its listing plans. All eyes have been on Sina.com - which operates the most popular mainland Web site according to some surveys - since Chinadotcom's shares more than trebled from US$20 to US$67 on their Nasdaq debut in July. Confirmation of the company's Nasdaq listing plans could be the trigger for a string of mainland Internet offerings on international equity markets. However, the structure of Sina.com's offering - necessary to secure mainland regulatory approval - raises as many questions as it answers, and reaction to the forthcoming flotation was mixed yesterday. Sina.com's Cayman Islands-based listing vehicle will have control of its Web sites in Taiwan, Hong Kong and North America. But the listing vehicle will not include the key mainland site. Since the mainland site - with its exposure to the mainland's fast-growing Internet population - is Sina.com's main draw card, its exclusion may dampen the response to the offer. Sina.com's site is not only the most popular site in the country, with 3.1 million registered users and 16.6 million average daily page views as of last month, but it is also seen as the best. The operator boasts an impressive line-up of minority shareholders, including Japanese Internet powerhouse Softbank, Pacific Century Cyberworks, Dell Computers, US investment bank Goldman Sachs and Singapore's United Overseas Bank. 'It is potentially worth much more than Chinadotcom, the only China concept stock listed on the Nasdaq,' a broker said. The bullish view is that Sina.com is best placed to exploit one of the world's fastest-growing Internet markets, with 8.9 million registered users at the end of last year, expected to reach 20 million by the end of this year. Sina.com is expected to keep that kind of growth momentum going. Investors see Sina.com's chief executive Wang Zhidong as one of the smartest Internet managers in the mainland. 'This is only the second China Internet stock available on the Nasdaq,' the broker said. 'How can it be anything but a runaway success?' But not everyone is so bullish about the listing. 'The [mainland] government's view of these listings has not changed,' said a second broker at a Hong Kong firm. 'It does not want US-funded and US-trained people in the news business. 'It wants to develop the Web sites of the People's Daily and other official publications and list them. 'The government wants only people raised through its own propaganda apparatus to do news. Web sites are not allowed [to employ] reporters,' he said. He said Sina.com, Sohu.com and other private sites had a legal problem. According to law, foreigners may not invest in Internet content providers, which is why Sina.com had to make the listing through a Cayman Islands vehicle. Under an agreement signed with the US in November, Beijing agreed to allow foreign investors to hold stakes of up to 49 per cent in telecommunications concerns after World Trade Organisation entry. Until then, it is illegal. 'For foreign investors, there is a risk,' the second broker said. 'They will be buying assets of the Cayman Islands company, but nearly all the money will be used in China. 'They will not have ownership of the Chinese company.' The risk, he said, was that Beijing may decide to restrict the operations of private Internet companies to help official Web sites. These restrictions might mean that capital raised abroad could not be invested in Sina.com's key mainland operations, the second broker said. An indication of how the Ministry of Information Industry regards these private companies came on Thursday when one of its subsidiaries launched an IT Web site, Ccidnet.com. Here is what Li Ying, chief executive of the new site, had to say about her competitors: 'Sohu and Sina do not create their own material. They just take others' material and put it on their portal. 'They add no value for readers and subscribers. This is just an overflow of information garbage. 'Because we have been involved for so many years, we understand the basics of our country's media management, so we can complement the government well and do things in an orderly way. 'I do not anticipate a problem to get a listing on Nasdaq within one year to raise several billion US dollars. 'We have a licence to do on-line services, but Sina and Sohu do not have a licence. The government supports us in doing this.' If Ms Li's and other official sites can catch up with the private sites in popularity and content, which will the government favour? The other question mark is the future of e-commerce, the key to making the Internet a profit-making business, in the mainland as elsewhere. E-commerce is still in its infancy in the mainland, with many technical issues, especially security of the network and winning confidence in it among a public accustomed to using cash. 'Deals cannot all be done on the Internet,' the second broker said. 'You still need to send a fax or make a telephone call. 'Chinese do not like to pay in advance. They prefer to pay when they have the product in their hand. 'All this is bad for the development of e-commerce.'