China's information minister, Wu Jichuan, is set to relax the government's attitude to foreign investment in the Internet.

Foreign companies are not currently allowed to invest in Chinese ISPs or content providers, but according to the latest reports, Jichuan has hinted that the government could change its regulations by Christmas.

The move marks a distinct softening of the minister's previous hard-line approach to the potential influx of foreign cash. Only last month, he said such investment would be treated as illegal.

In a speech at the end of last month, the minister also claimed the size of China's Internet community is set to rise from four million today to at least 20 million by 2003.