SK Telecom has sold back its 3.8 percent stake in China Unicom for US$1.3 billion as part of a significant shift in strategy for the South Korean firm in China. In a statement, SK said that it would use the proceeds from the stake – which it acquired in 2006 – to strengthen its financial base and pursue other partnership opportunities in China, including maintaining an alliance with Unicom. However, reports suggest that the sale highlighted SK Telecom’s failure to make a significant profit from its venture and may have been prompted by the deepening relationship between Unicom and Spain’s Telefonica. A deal struck between the two operators earlier this month saw Telefonica increase its stake in Unicom from 5.38 percent to approximately 8 percent, making it the largest single investor in the Chinese number two operator. The sale of SK shares is expected to be completed in mid-November after the approval from independent shareholders of China Unicom. Sale price per share is HKD11.105 (US$1.43) and the total proceeds of sale will amount to approximately HKD10 billion or KRW1.5 trillion (US$1.3 billion).

In other Unicom news today, the operator announced it will begin offering Apple’s iPhone in China from next month as part of a three deal, reports Wall Street Journal. The announcement follows years of speculation around the launch of the iconic device in the world’s largest mobile market. Unicom said the device would be priced at CNY5,000 (US$732) with a choice of eight tariffs, ranging from CNY126 to CNY886 (US$18 to US$130) per month. The iPhone will be sold in Apple retail outlets, through China Unicom’s own network of stores, and through major independent retailers, Unicom said in a statement. The launch of the iPhone coincides with the official launch of China Unicom’s 3G network on Thursday.