THE main players in the Hong Kong and China development game in the next few years look like being those who know the market best - local and overseas-based Chinese. With few exceptions, all property development in the world's most active market has surprisingly few international participants. Hong Kong developers are by far the most prominent players in the mainland, where they compete for levels of investment with the Taiwanese and Chinese from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Japanese developers do not appear likely to take a big market share in either Hong Kong or China. They are feeling pressure from Japanese banks because of high exposure to the United States and Australian markets. Analysts believe the Japanese will take a conservative view to lending and exposure to development in China and will target infrastructure, retail joint ventures and industrial projects. In Beijing, although the Japanese are involved in retail with local partners, a quick survey of the most active developers and builders reveals only Hong Kong companies who include Hysan Development, New World, Tak Wing, Tianan and Paliburg. Colliers Jardine research manager Paul Burke said the fact developers often had to take an equity share of the proposed commercial or residential project while the local joint venture partner threw in the land had often ruled out foreigners. Although some overseas contractors were represented in China, many would be unable to raise the finance needed to fund the vast majority of development work. The Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce's chief economist, Ian Perkin, said apart from the ethnic Chinese, whether Hong Kong or Taiwanese, there were few foreign companies taking on projects. Mr Perkin said it was difficult for them to make a commitment to China because the biggest stumbling block was in securing a joint venture partner. An annual survey conducted by Credit Lyonnais Securities shows listed Hong Kong companies have a huge exposure to the property market in China although the sector attracting the most investment is infrastructure. Listed companies apparently have more than 390 property projects worth over $200 billion pending in China. But not all of them are expected to be completed. Property has been a more popular investment than industrial and manufacturing ventures because it offers the highest potential rate of return - between 40 per cent and 100 per cent, according to Credit Lyonnais. Different regions of China attract ethnic Chinese; overseas-based businessmen returned to invest in provinces where they have family ties. Colliers Mr Burke said Singaporeans and Malaysians, who shared cultural and linguistic links with the Fujian province, had become active and developers and investors in the cities of Xiamen, well known home town for overseas Chinese, and Fuzhou. Mr Burke said Chinese-Filipino investors, mainly of Fujian extraction, had become increasingly active in residential property. Their interest was possibly fuelled by uncertainty surrounding their domestic property market. Chinese Indonesians who had ancestral links in Fuzhou had also invested in residential. ''Xiamen can expect to see a surge in investment, particularly from Taiwan, which shares the same dialect and customs as Fujian province, once political and economic links are opened,'' Mr Burke said. According to the Credit Lyonnais survey, the biggest area of investment was Guangdong, where 407 projects are mooted, and worth an estimated $320.9 million. The major listed companies in this market are Chuang's Consortium, Lai Sun Development, Hutchison Whampoa, Kumagai Gumi and Hopewell. They are building 10 shopping malls along the Guandung-Shenzen Highway. Shanghai is the second most popular province for property investors with 81 projects on line. The main operators are COLI, New World Development, World Trade Centre Group and China Resources Holdings.