China's third largest oil company and Royal Dutch Shell have agreed to build a petrochemical plant in southern China. In Hong Kong, businesses face sharply higher charges for calls to mainland China.

Royal Dutch-Shell and China National Offshore Oil Corporation will spend 4.3 billion on the petrochemical plant in Guangdong province. Construction begins next year and the plant should be finished by 2005.

Scott Weaver, a raw materials analyst with investment bank ING Barings, says the project is a milestone for China, which relies heavily on imported petrochemicals. "This is part of a larger trend in China, through the last year or two we've seen a variety of foreign major petrochemical companies committing to China, focused more on plastic and upstream raw materials," he says. "So clearly this is an area where all of them are looking for serious investment and growth going forward."

Shell says its total investment in China will rise to around five billion by 2007 from $1.6 billion now.

China's biggest phone company, China Telecom has raised its rates for connecting international calls coming into the country. Hong Kong residents saw the biggest increase. China Telecom now charges 17 cents a minute to connect a call from the city, up from two cents. As a result, Hong Kong phone companies have doubled their fees for calls to China.

The sharp rise in connection fees, however, did not appeal to stock investors. China Telecom last week delayed its plan to list its shares on the Hong Kong stock market, because of lack of interest.

Elsewhere in Asia, manufacturing output in Singapore rose by almost 10.5 percent in September compared with a year earlier. It was the sixth straight month of growth. However, there are signs of a slowdown; September figures were down from July's 18.3 percent growth.