Pundits insist that any ramping-up of opportunities in China remains years away, despite that country's pending admission to the World Trade Organization.

But officials at the Hartcourt Cos. beg to differ.

The Los Angeles-based company formerly a manufacturer of pens, writing tools and environmental engineering equipment decided to change course a few months back. They would instead concentrate on three things: China, telecommunications and the Internet.

"The new economy is where we want to be and China is where we want to be," said Alan Phan, Harcourt's president and chief executive, who founded the company in 1990.

Already, the company is setting up joint ventures with Chinese companies to capitalize on China's untapped demand for financial-oriented Web sites and cable TV programs aimed at helping aggressive Chinese investors decide what decisions to make.

In March, Hartcourt launched a new holding company and financial Web site in China called Sinobull.com, in which it has a 48 percent controlling interest. The site, operated out of four offices in China by the holding company, offers financial news stories related to China and the broader overseas market, real-time quotes from the Taiwanese and Hong Kong stock markets, quotes from the Shenzen and Shanghai stock markets, and financial chat rooms.

In addition, customers can sign up to do online e-trading with 10 of the 15 largest securities companies in China, said Mike Bianco, president and chief executive of Sinobull.com.

"It is the only nationwide online financial services Web site in China," Bianco said, adding that the site averages 1.8 million page views a day.

Of course, there are a few glitches to be worked out. "The technology needs to be further developed on the infrastructure, and security issues need to be looked at closely. And you have a real challenge in finding people who are IT (information technology) qualified," Bianco said. "Other than that, it's easy."

While Hartcourt may control one of the first financial Web sites in China, it is not the only one. Others include HomeWay.com, StockStar.com, China.com and Sina.com, providing mostly financial news and content.

Hartcourt also wants to become the next CNBC of China. And that may happen very soon. One of Hartcourt's subsidiaries, Shanghai Guo Mao Financial Corp., has teamed up with China Cable Networks to provide financial news to the 80 million cable TV viewers in China. Hartcourt's subsidiary will develop TV content, including real-time market data and commentary.


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