Apple launched the iPhone 5 in China on Friday and, despite speculation that the device got a lukewarm greeting on arrival, Apple has announced that it sold “more than 2 million” units over the opening weekend.

That sets a new record for the company in China, as CEO Tim Cook explained in a canned comment that accompanied the announcement:

“Customer response to iPhone 5 in China has been incredible, setting a new record with the best first weekend sales ever in China. China is a very important market for us and customers there cannot wait to get their hands on Apple products.”

The fact that this is a record is significant since it goes against a common perception that Apple is losing market- and mind-share there. Android-powered devices are eating up the growing smartphone market — with one analyst firm pegging Android at 90 percent market share — but the rapid-fire iPhone 5 sales show Apple retains a core audience in China.

There is, however, still no doubt that the company has untapped potential in the country, and a much-speculated partnership with China Mobile — the world’s largest carrier with more than 700 million customers — would massively broaden its reach.

Lead-up to the phone’s arrival — which comes some three months after it premiered worldwide — saw signs of strong interest in the country as operator China Unicom racked up 300,000 reservations (not pre-orders) of the phone, indeed it saw 100,000 customers sign-up to buy the phone after just one day.

The phone’s seemingly quiet arrival can largely be put down to Apple’s sales system. The company requires customers to register to pick up a phone before they come to the store. This is an approach used to cut down on ‘scalpers’, who are resellers that have traditionally crowded Apple launches in China to buy up devices to sell on for a tidy profit.

The release of the iPhone 4S in China at the start of this year was marred by an altercation between scalpers that caused the delay of the phone’s release in the country. Apple has since implemented its reservation system for releases in China and Hong Kong, in part to prevent scalpers from buying up all the inventory.

It’s been a happy couple of weeks for Apple fans in China, as sales of the iPad mini began in the country last Friday.

China has become a vital market for Apple, accounting for 15 percent of its revenue last fiscal year, behind only the US. In addition to China, Apple is also bringing the iPhone to 50 new markets this month. It launched the device in Korea one week previous.

For full details of the launch last Friday, check out the post our China editor Josh Ong filed from the Apple Store in Sanlitun, Beijing: Apple kicks off iPhone 5 sales in China

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