Samsung Electronics, the world's third-largest mobile handset maker, has won a foothold to sell its GSM handsets in China, casting a threat to dominant foreign players Motorola and Nokia. Industry sources said Samsung recently secured Beijing's approval to directly sell GSM handsets in China rather than relying on import agents. The move allows it to compete head-to-head with Motorola and Nokia in China's high-end mobile handset sector. A Samsung spokesman declined to comment. The news came as Motorola, the world's second-largest handset maker, said total sales in China last year were expected to hit US$5.7 billion. 'The year-on-year growth in China has been spectacular,' said Motorola president Mike Zafirovski, expecting 'healthy double digit growth' in annual purchases by China consumers. Mr Zafirovski said mainland sales registered 15 per cent growth last year because the company exported more cellphones and semiconductor chips. Motorola is due to announce its full-year results on January 22. Mr Zafirovski said Motorola was poised for a turnaround after battling an industry meltdown in the past two years, helped by a pick-up in the handset market. By 2006, Motorola expects the value of its annual production in China to hit US$10 billion based on total investment of US$10 billion. However Samsung's full market entry promises intensified competition for Motorola and Nokia in the high-end handset market in China, according to Gartner Asia-Pacific Mobile analyst Ann Liang. 'A sales licence helps Samsung establish a footing in China,' she said. Both Motorola and Nokia had previously been granted approval to sell handsets in China, giving them an advantage over Samsung. But the South Korean firm will now be able to compete on equal terms. 'Samsung's weakness is in distribution management, in which local vendors are strong. [However], we still regard Samsung as a potential rival for Nokia and Motorola,' Ms Liang said. 'Its varied and fashionable products, as well as its good image are factors which will stimulate sales growth.' Samsung expects its China operations to have generated US$6.4 billion in revenue last year, including US$2.4 billion from semiconductors, US$2 billion from IT products, and US$2 billion from exports.