THE latest launch by the Chinese defence industry's ambitious satellite unit deals strictly in earthly pleasures - a 31-flavour ice cream parlour in Beijing. The pink, purple and white Baskin-Robbins shop, which opened yesterday, is among the stranger spin-offs from the defence ministry's swords-to-ploughshares invasion of China's flourishing consumer economy. Beijing, hoping to slash huge state subsidies to inefficient and often redundant munitions factories, has encouraged them to shift production to television sets, refrigerators, trucks, cars and hundreds of other high-demand consumer items. So an ice cream venture was no problem for Baskin-Robbins' space-age partner, a unit of the ministry-level Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence called China Satellite Launch and Tracking Control General. It oversees a cut-rate launch service for foreign and Chinese satellites. ''Of course our main mission is launching satellites,'' said space official Yang Gang, who learned about Baskin-Robbins while in California to buy a satellite from Hughes Aircraft Co. ''But our country has a policy of encouraging state agencies to engage in profit-making ventures. If this venture turns profit, who can argue with that?'' said Mr Yang over the din of a marching band at the store's official opening. The gleaming shop in a sports village where Beijing had hoped to hold the 2000 Summer Olympics has drawn about 175 customers a day since a September ''soft opening''. The California confectioner's initial US$1 million (HK$7.73 million) investment is for four shops and is likely to increase once it finds partners for a factory in the Beijing area, said international division president Michael Cohn.