REGISTRATION of quality systems is still in its infancy in China. So far, only 12 Chinese companies have received ISO 9000 certification. Although the number is estimated to reach 100 by the end of the year, this is tiny when compared with Hong Kong's current total of 178 and a world total of 45,000. The China State Bureau of Technical Supervision (CSBTS), which oversees product quality on the mainland, is aware that international market competition is forcing countries to improve their quality systems and product certification. To ensure international recognition, China modified its own standards in 1992 to make them identical to the ISO 9000 series. CSBTS has approved six quality system registration bodies, and is preparing rules for a quality system registration framework aimed at setting up a network of registration organisations. The intention is that quality certification results will be mutually recognised by all the registration bodies. CSBTS will then have to promote the principle of ISO 9000 and encourage companies to apply and prepare for accreditation. One of the problems facing China is the small number of trained assessors to carry out the work. The Hong Kong Quality Assurance Agency (HKQAA) is helping out by taking in mainland Chinese staff on its training programmes. Lionel Wood, chief executive of the HKQAA, said there were some very good Chinese companies which should have no problem achieving ISO certification. His main worry was that although the Chinese Government intended to be rigorous in setting up registration bodies, any hint of corruption could be harmful to the certification process. ''With the government's concern over corruption in other aspects of life, it is important that it should not be allowed to infiltrate the certification process,'' he said. Mr Wood said the Chinese certification bodies were trying hard and were doing very well. But it would probably take two years before the best of them would be in a position to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with an overseas certification body, simply because of the question of credibility. China has fewer problems over product certification because it has been carrying it out since 1981 and the necessary legislation and programmes are already in place. Ten product quality certification bodies, each responsible for a particular product, ranging from condoms to satellite earth station equipment, are already in operation, and there are plans to add more. Nearly 5,000 product certificates have been awarded to about 2,500 companies.