Caixin
Dec 09, 2016 05:47 PM
BUSINESS & TECH

Google Caps Active Year in China With Resumption of Developer Forum

The Google logo is seen on a sign in front of its Beijing office in July 2013. Photo: Visual China
The Google logo is seen on a sign in front of its Beijing office in July 2013. Photo: Visual China

(Beijing) — Global search giant Google held its first developer conference in Beijing after a five-year pause, the latest signal to fuel speculation that the company hopes to return to China after a high-profile withdrawal over the country's policies on self-censorship.

Google shuttered its China-based search engine in 2010 after refusing to continue complying with Beijing's policies that require all internet sites to self-police themselves for content on sensitive topics. Since then the company has maintained a site at google.cn, mostly as a placeholder for its current Chinese-language site based in Hong Kong, which has its own internet rules.

Google held its latest China developers conference in Beijing on Thursday, its first such event since 2011. At the event, it unveiled a new China-based page for local application developers, again marking one of its first launches of a new web page in the country since 2010.

The web page was in English. But the company also concurrently launched a new Chinese-language public account for developers on the popular WeChat instant-messaging platform. Company officials declined to comment on reports over the last year that it wants to return to the China internet.

Google held another event in July in the southern city of Shenzhen to launch an experience center, and in April held another event for entrepreneurs. The company has also registered a company in China's free trade zone in Shanghai, and mesmerized millions of Chinese early this year when its AlphaGo computer defeated a South Korean world champion in a match playing the ancient local board game called Go.

The flurry of activity comes after Google co-founder and former CEO Larry Page said late last year he was no longer making decisions about the company's China strategy, and had handed off that responsibility to Sundar Pichai, its newly appointed CEO at that time.

China still maintains the same self-censorship policies that existed on the internet in 2010 when Google left. But a big change since then has been the rapid rise of the mobile internet and smartphones, the big majority of which use Google's Android operating system.

Most Chinese smartphone brands like Huawei and Xiaomi, as well as global giants like Samsung, produce phones primarily using Android and offer apps over their own online stores. But Google's own Nexus brand smartphones are absent in China, and its Google Play app store is blocked.

Google hasn't commented on its China intentions in the market, but notes that it never left and has maintained a presence there through offices that offer its services based outside the country.

Contact reporter Yang Ge (geyang@caixin.com)

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