Google has secured a licence to operate in China, enabling it to
compete more effectively with rivals in the world's second-largest
The internet search engine has bought a web address and is considering opening an office by the end of the year.
Despite having no physical presence in China, Google already accounts for about 20% of online searches there.
The licence will enable it to compete more effectively with rival Yahoo and domestic providers.
Web-based services such as search engines are heavily censored in China
with many firms preventing people from gathering information on
sensitive political and moral subjects.
Pornographic sites and those providing information
about the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 and other crackdowns on
political dissent are among those proscribed.
However, China offers a potentially lucrative market
for internet companies as it is home to an estimated 94 million web
surfers, second in size only to the United States.
"As part of our studying and learning about this
market, we have obtained a licence for a rep office but have no
employees in China at this time," a Google spokeswoman told Reuters.
Chinese users currently accessing Google's main site can choose to be directed to a specific Chinese language site.
The US company has now secured its own Chinese web address -
www.google.com.cn - although Google declined to elaborate on how it
planned to develop the site.
According to web consultancy Shanghai iResearch, Google already has a
21.2% share of web searches in China, making it the country's third
most popular web search engine after Baidu.com and Yahoo.
Google last year acquired a small stake in Baidu, which is looking to list its shares overseas.
Competition in the Chinese web services arena is hotting up.
Internet firm Sina is due to launch a Chinese language search engine
later this year while Microsoft announced plans on Wednesday to develop
a more advanced version of its MSN internet portal.