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Chinese search engine Baidu to launch Japanese version

Facing competition, China's largest search company decides to broaden its base and enter Internet-savvy Japan.

Baidu, the largest Chinese-language search engine, announced plans Monday to introduce a Japanese edition of the service next year.

Neither a timeline nor a more specific release date has been given yet, but according to Baidu CEO Robin Li, the company has already spent more than six months on research into building Japanese-language search technology. Baidu is currently the largest search engine in China and, according to Web traffic ranker Alexa, is the fourth most-visited site in the world.

A handful of major U.S. tech companies, in addition to American venture capitalists, have taken note of Baidu's potential: Intel, for example, launched a partnership in April, and Google has been a Baidu investor despite running rival At the same time, the Chinese versions of U.S.-developed search engines like Google and Yahoo have proven to be formidable competitors. The increasingly competitive nature of the Chinese search market could be part of Baidu's reasoning in deciding to expand its base from its home country to Internet-savvy Japan. In China, despite steady growth, only 100 million of the 1.3 billion citizens were Web users at the beginning of 2006.

There's a good chance that Baidu's Japanese version will have homegrown competition, too. The country's own Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has been exploring the possibility of creating a national search engine, though it is unclear if or when such a project will be instituted.