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China's Uber rival takes step toward global plunge

Didi Chuxing starts rolling out an English version of its ride-hailing app in China, as it eyes an international launch.

didi-chuxing.jpg
Didi Chuxing's ride-hailing app enables real-time, in-app translation of text messages between English and Chinese.
Zhang Peng, LightRocket via Getty Images

If you're visiting China but don't speak the language, you may be relieved to hear that you can hail a cab just as easily as the locals now.

Didi Chuxing, a China-based rival to Uber's ride-hailing service, on Monday rolled out an English version of its app in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. The company said the feature will be introduced in other cities "progressively," though it gave no timeline. A spokesman said in an email that the schedule will depend on user feedback from the three cities.

Reports that the Chinese ride-hailing company was testing an English interface surfaced in February, following the company's announcement a week earlier of an international business unit. Last fall, Jean Liu, the company's president, had suggested that Didi Chuxing will expand beyond China's borders. In a statement Monday, Didi Chuxing said the English language update is a "crucial link in [its] broader global strategy."

After Didi Chuxing bought out Uber's China operations last year, it changed that app's interface from English to Chinese, leaving non-Mandarin speakers in a lurch.

The update will allow people from 11 countries outside of China to register on the app, including the US, UK and Australia. It will support payments from Visa, MasterCard, Discover, JCB and Diners. Real-time translation of texts exchanged between drivers and passengers is supported, and people can access customer support in English via email and phone.

The three cities first receiving the update are among China's top five destinations for foreign tourists. According to China, more than 28 million international tourists visited the country in 2016, an 8 percent increase from the previous year.

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