Baidu, latest to be named in reports regarding telco’s mixed-ownership reform.

China Unicom on Monday said it is still negotiating with potential investors, following a report that search provider Baidu and e-commerce firm are in the frame.

China Unicom "is not aware of the source of information in those media reports and has not entered into any legally binding documents, including framework agreement or subscription agreement, with any potential investor," the company said, in a statement.

Reuters reported late last week that Baidu and have joined a growing group of tech firms, that also includes Web player Tencent and e-commerce giant Alibaba, that plan to plough as much as $12 billion (€10.3 billion) into China Unicom’s Shanghai-listed business.

According to sources cited by the newswire, the majority of the capital will be raised by Unicom issuing new shares and selling a stake in the Shanghai unit.

China Unicom, which in recent years has struggled to keep pace with China Mobile and China Telecom, is among multiple groups of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) included in the government’s mixed-ownership reform programme.

The scheme aims to improve the efficiency of underperforming SOEs by diversifying their ownership structures.

China Unicom is still the second-largest of the country’s three MNOs, with 269.45 million subscribers at the end of June. Third-placed China Telecom has 229.85 million.

However, when it comes to higher-paying 4G customers, China Unicom sits firmly in last place, with 138.81 million compared to China Telecom’s 152.02 million.

Meanwhile, market leader China Mobile had 866.51 million customers at the end of June, 593.65 million of which were 4G customers.