CUPERTINO, Calif. ( TheStreet) -- Apple ( AAPL) will open up another front in its smartphone war with Google ( GOOG) and Research In Motion ( RIMM) when it starts selling the iPhone 4 in China later this week.

The phone giant, which is facing stiff competition from phones powered by Google's Android operating system, could receive a massive boost from Chinese sales of the new iPhone.
Apple Store China

There had already been rumors that Apple and China Unicom would start selling the iPhone 4 this month, and Apple confirmed its strategy in a statement released on Sunday.

The iPhone 4 will be available at Apple stores in China on Saturday morning, including at the company's new Shanghai and Beijing stores, which are opening on the same day. The iPhone 4 will also be available via a two-year contract at Chinese telco China Unicom.

As the world's most populous nation, China presents a great opportunity for smartphone makers such as Apple and HTC, particularly at a time when the country is undergoing rapid economic growth.

China was the world's second-largest smartphone market during the second quarter of 2010, according to research from Canalys. Some 6.9 million smartphones were sold in China during the second quarter, and the number is expected to explode during the coming years.

Apple has already identified China as a major market opportunity. The company's Mac sales in China grew 144% during the third quarter, and Apple has also been slowly ramping up its Chinese iPhone efforts.

China Unicom began selling an 8-Gbyte iPhone 3GS with Wi-Fi capabilities last month. The telco, which is Apple's exclusive Chinese iPhone partner, has been selling iPhones since late last year, although initial versions of the Chinese iPhone had lacked Wi-Fi connections as a result of Chinese government regulations.

Apple, which recently posted impressive third quarter results, has described the iPhone 4 as its most successful launch ever and has already sold more than 3 million of the new phones.

Apple shares were up $5.91, or 2.15%, to $281.28 in early morning trading.

--Written by James Rogers in New York.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/jamesjrogers.

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