Japan’s largest automaker, Toyota Motor Corp. has announced it has won approval from the Chinese government for its plan to launch automobile production in Tianjin, northern China.

With the long-awaited approval, the world’s third-largest automaker will form an equally-owned joint venture with China’s Tianjin Automotive Xiali Corp. with a total investment of $100 million, the company said.

The venture, called Tianjin Toyota Motor Co., plans to launch production of 3,000 compact cars annually from 2002, using the same platform as Vitz and Platz (known as Yaris and Echo in Europe).

“China is such a huge market and like other companies, we also see positive prospects and growing demand in there,” said Taro Takada, a company spokesperson.

Toyota reportedly turned down unofficial approaches by the Chinese government to invest in China in 1980s, and as a result fell behind the global race to enter into the fast-growing Chinese market.

“At that time we didn’t see promising prospects in Chinese market,” said Takada, “but from now on our focus is China.”

Japan’s top automaker will also provide technical support to the Chinese partner to help it produce new models.

Shares of Toyota climbed 130 yen, or 2.7 percent, to 5,040 yen by mid-afternoon session in Tokyo on Monday