Apple’s off to a slow start in iPhone sales in China, with carrier partner China Unicom confirming 5,000 sales of the device so far, since it went on sale last week.

Company president Lu Yimin characterised iPhone prices as “not expensive” during today’s Unicom shareholders meeting in Hong Kong. However, the iPhone costs maybe 26 per cent more than similar smartphones in Hong Kong (that also include Wifi), which industry observers fear may depress sales of Apple’s device in the world’s most populous country.

Over 700 million Chinese subscribe to wireless services. It’s estimated Apple may sell 460,000 iPhones each year in China – which Bloomberg reflects is less than the number of grey market iPhones currently sold there.

Despite this, China Unicom chairman, Chairman Chang Xiaobing, said, "We are satisified with iPhone sales so far, and we aim to have an additional 1 million new 3G subscribers each month in the near future.”

China Unicom has signed up over one million 3G subscribers so far. China Mobile and China Telecom will also launch 3G services in the coming months.

In August, Unicom signed a three-year non-exclusive deal to sell Apple’s popular iPhone in China.

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