Sheraton Corp. yesterday announced a joint venture to operate The Great Wall Hotel, a two-year-old luxury hotel in Beijing that became The Great Wall Sheraton yesterday morning.

The venture makes the 22-story, $75 million hotel the first in China to bear the name of an international hotel company.

"This means that you have a recognized foreign hotel-management chain taking over the reservations and quality control at one of the major properties in China," said Carol Goldsmith, executive director of China Travel Management USA Ltd., a firm that concentrates on business travel to China.

The management of the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel, situated about two hours from The Great Wall of China, is a joint venture of the Beijing branch of the China International Travel Service, Becket Investment Corp., Unison Pacific Corp and Sheraton. Sheraton, a subsidiary of ITT Corp., said it expects to expand its operations to five additional Chinese cities by 1990.

Zhong Mianqian, chairman of The Great Wall Hotel's board of directors, said that the selection of Sheraton to manage the hotel -- a decision made after a year of negotiations -- was greatly influenced by the company's present leading position in Asia and its global marketing strength. Ten other international hotel chains also were considered for the venture.

The management contract for The Great Wall Sheraton is the company's third management takeover in Asia in less than three months. The chain took over operation of the Royal Orchid Sheraton in Bangkok in February and the Sheraton Okinawa in January.

Although Sheraton is the first international hotel company whose name is attached to a Chinese hotel, other U.S. and foreign companies, including The Peninsula Group and Holiday Inn International, have been managing hotels in Beijing for one to two years, according to Goldsmith.

Most of the hotel business agreements up to now, however, were Chinese-American joint ventures or U.S. management contracts with the Chinese.

"This is the latest and most significant example of a new willingness by the Chinese to allow foreign firms to offer their management expertise in China," Goldsmith said. "They had been willing to co-manage, but not to allow a foreign management company to come in and run a property."

Sheraton has 480 hotels worldwide in 55 countries. "They're a large hotel chain -- probably the second-largest in the world," said Daniel Lee of Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc, a securities firm. "But they don't earn much money."

"Part of the reason is they do a lot of flag planting," Lee added. "They enter into a lot of management agreements where they have underbid other hotel companies. While that allows them to put their name on the building, they don't earn a lot of money."