China Petroleum & Chemical Corp (Sinopec) is seeking private investors for as much as 30 per cent of its oil retail unit, which includes more than 30,000 fuel stations, an initial step in a government-driven reform. Its shares surged. The board approved the plan on Wednesday to explore opportunities to restructure the business, which operates the country's largest network of fuel stations, the Beijing-based company said in a statement. Sinopec's American depositary receipts jumped 8.4 per cent on Wednesday to trade at the highest premium over its Hong Kong shares since January 2009. Sinopec is welcoming investors after Beijing unveiled in November the biggest package that includes a promise to encourage more private investment in state-controlled industries. "It's an indication authorities are going to deliver on their promise to make these state-owned enterprises more market-oriented," said Tony Hann, the head of emerging-market equities at Blackfriars Asset Management. Sinopec's unit that markets and distributes petroleum products was its biggest contributor to sales in 2012, at 71 per cent, Bloomberg data shows. The firm operated 30,532 fuel stations across China as of the end of 2013, it said in a statement. The "retail business is a cash cow that could be appealing to private individuals who don't have the appetite to take on capital-intensive upstream projects," said Gordon Kwan, Nomura's regional head of oil and gas research. Sinopec's ADRs surged to US$83.51 in New York, the highest in two months. Its shares in Hong Kong rose 0.5 per cent to close at HK$6.62 yesterday. The statement was released after the market closed.