China Unicom has reportedly denied widespread rumours this week that it has struck a deal with Apple to launch the iPhone later this year. Unconfirmed reports from Apple’s recent global developer conference suggested that China Unicom would launch a version of the iPhone optimised to work with Chinese and Japanese languages in August. However, a Unicom executive reportedly described the speculation this week as “nonsense” and said that no such discussions could take place until the country’s market restructuring and 3G licensing awards have been resolved.

Apple was believed to have held talks with Unicom rival China Mobile regarding an iPhone launch earlier in the year, although these appeared to break down because of Apple’s previous insistence on its revenue-sharing model for the device. However, Apple has abandoned this business model for the launch of the new 3G iPhone and has already signed-up a number of key international operator partners. But matters are further complicated by China’s development of its proprietary 3G standard, TD-SCDMA, which is not compatible with the forthcoming 3G iPhone. Under the recent restructuring in the Chinese market, China Unicom has sold its CDMA network and kept its GSM network, keeping it at least in the frame for a potential future deal with Apple.