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Apple redoubles its efforts in China

Opening two new stores and launching the iPhone 4 on Saturday

“We are lucky that Steve Jobs has such a bad temper and doesn’t care about China,” Lenovo CEO Liu Chuanzhi told the
Financial Times
in July. “If Apple were to spend the same effort on the Chinese consumer as we do, we would be in trouble.”

Comments like that may help explain why Apple (AAPL) has been making extra sure the press knows about every move it makes in China, the world’s largest market for cell phones. Last week it blasted the media with an English-language press release announcing the launch of the iPad in China but buried in a Spanish-only release the news that the iPad was launching the same day in five South American countries.

This week it’s touting the simultaneous launch Saturday of the iPhone 4 in China and the opening of two more stores — one in Beijing and one in Shanghai — bringing the total number of Apple retail outlets on the mainland to four. Apple has said that it will open 25 stores in China by 2012.

With nearly 800 million subscribers and a growing middle class, China may turn out to be the world’s most important market for smartphones — far bigger than the U.S. — and Google’s (GOOG) Android is off to a fast start. Lenovo is aggressively pushing the Android operating system and on Monday Reuters reported that China Telecom (CHA) ordered 300,000 Android phones that it will sell for 1,000 yuan ($148.87) each.

The iPhone 4 will cost Chinese customers considerably more: 4,999 yuan ($744.21) for the 16GB model without a contract and 5,999 yuan ($893.08) for 32GB. China Unicom (CHU) offers a variety of subsidized pricing plans (see here) that I can’t make heads or tails of.

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]