China has begun conducting four pilot tests related to the development of its first nationwide electronic payment system.
Though banks in China can gain access to electronic payment services, "these are not connected nationwide, and they are not open to Internet service," said Jun Liang, president of Intermost Corp., an electronic commerce company in China that is carrying out one of the tests.
A few banks, such as China's Merchant Bank, have access to the Internet, but "do not have the central bank's authorization," Mr. Liang said.
Intermost and others are hoping to take advantage of the growing number of Internet users in China by helping to develop an infrastructure for electronic commerce.
Since March, the number of Internet users in China has jumped from about two million to five million.
The rise is attributed to a lowering of China's nationalized Internet access fees. Users now pay 2 cents a minute for dial-up access or $30 a month for unlimited access.
Before March, these figures were 30% to 40% higher.
The pilots are in Beijing, Shanghai, Hunan, and Shenzhen.
Intermost is involved in the pilot in Shenzhen, the information technology capital of China. It is working with the Shenzhen Financial Settlement Center, a branch of the central bank.
All commercial banks belong to this center, including Bank of China, Industrial and Commerce Bank, Agricultural Bank, and Construction Bank.
"Shenzhen is at least 12 months ahead of the others," said Mr. Liang.
"Technically, our system will let users and merchants do Internet commerce, including banking. It will be used in a few pilot projects until we get policy approval from the central bank in Beijing."
Intermost, which has a Web site at www.chinaE.com, is the first information technology firm from China to be listed in the United States. Its over-the-counter symbol is IMOT.
"It's a one-year-old company that is profitable and debt-free," said Steven Smith of Buchanan Consulting in Longwood, Fla.
Intermost recently made a 70% investment in Jiayin Investment Company Ltd., creating a new company tentatively called Jiayin Electronic Payment Technology Company Ltd. Jiayin's proprietary telephone banking and computer network technology is used by 75% of the commercial banks in Shenzhen.
"We believe Jiayin is a leader," Mr. Liang said.