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CUPERTINO, Calif. (

TheStreet

) --

Apple

(AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. Report

will

open up another front in its smartphone war

with

Google

(GOOG) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class C Report

and

Research In Motion

(RIMM)

when it starts selling the

iPhone 4

in China later this week.

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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.

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

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