Microsoft Corp. has signed a deal with Baidu, China’s leading Internet search engine, to offer its English-language search functions to Chinese users.
The agreement, which was announced Monday, comes more than a year after Google Inc. pulled out of China, largely over disagreements about censorship, and ceded just under half its market share to Baidu.
The Chinese Internet giant has long struggled to match Google’s English search capabilities and is expected to introduce Microsoft Bing by the end of the year, albeit a version that will have to adhere to the country’s ever-expanding censorship rules.
To be sure, the overwhelming majority of Baidu users access the search engine for Chinese results. The company commands 83% of the domestic search market in the world’s largest Internet community, with over 470 million users.
“It’s a non-trivial matter to build your own index of English pages, so why not partner with someone who already does that well?” said Kaiser Kuo, a spokesman for Baidu. “It’s all about serving the needs of our users.”
Kuo said the deal could also make Baidu more competitive in search markets outside of China.
“We’ll learn quite a bit,” he said. “And that certainly will help us venture into other markets with our core search product.”
The deal gives Microsoft a massive foothold in China for Bing, whose presence is currently negligible.
Edward Yu, head of Analysys International, a consultancy specializing in the Chinese Web industry, said Microsoft is more adept at navigating Chinese politics than Google ever was.
“Given the length of its operations in China, Microsoft is very familiar with how to keep a good relationship with the Chinese government,” Yu said. “They’re much more experienced than Google, and they’re much more skillful than Google in this regard.”