Universal Studios has signed a preliminary agreement with one of China's largest tourism enterprises, Beijing Tourism Group (BTG), to build a $900m theme park in the Chinese capital, according to Hong Kong daily the South China Morning Post.

The proposed park is subject to approval from the Chinese government's State Development and Planning Commission but construction could begin as early as next year according to BTG chairman Duan Qiang.

"Equity distribution has not been finalised as we may invite more domestic or foreign partners to join the proposed development," said Duan.

He added that he hoped the park would be completed in time for the 2008 Olympic Games to be hosted by Beijing.

The park would be Universal's second in Asia following Universal Studios Japan (USJ) which drew huge crowds when it opened last year but has suffered a series of setbacks over the summer. USJ president Akira Sakata recently offered to resign following a string of health and safety scandals including out-of-date food and polluted water.

News of Universal's move into China comes just three months after it emerged that the Walt Disney Co plans to build a theme park in Shanghai.

The spectre of Shanghai Disney has alarmed many in Hong Kong who fear it will provide unwelcome competition for Hong Kong Disneyland, currently under construction and set to open in 2005. A Universal theme park in Beijing places even greater pressure on Hong Kong as it fights to hold on to mainland tourist dollars.