CHINA has laid down guidelines for selling off state-owned enterprises ahead of the upcoming Fourth Plenum of the party Central Committee, when the unprofitable public sector will be top of the agenda. State enterprises, 47 per cent of which are losing money, can only be sold with the approval of the State Council or authorised government departments, according to a report in the latest issue of the pro-China weekly, Economic Reporter. A spokesman for the State Council's State Assets Management Bureau said the enterprises could not transfer ownership themselves because they were owned by the state. Private operators will not be allowed to buy these enterprises, the report said. ''The purchasing organisations should be legal bodies, carrying out appropriate activities. Private operators are absolutely not allowed,'' he said. The sale of large state-owned businesses, including those administered by regions, must be approved by the State Council, the report said. The spokesman said that money from ownership transfers should be used to pay bank debts and redundancies. The rest could then be used to restructure other unprofitable state-enterprises, he said. Despite heavy government subsidies, most of these enterprises have failed to make a profit. Official statistics indicate that 46.3 per cent of state enterprises lost money in the first half of this year, a 15.5 per cent increase on the same period last year. Their combined losses stood at more than 21.97 billion yuan (HK$19.62 billion), a 22.8 per cent increase on last year.