Baidu, China's biggest web search engine, is aiming to make more overseas investments in the near future, its chief executive said on Thursday.
Media-shy founder and chief executive Robin Li, who opened Baidu's first office in a Beijing motel, told reporters that overseas operations would make a significant contribution to revenues in five to 15 years.
"Going forward, I think we should make this kind of move as early as possible," Li said. "The market is moving very quickly, and there is this kind of window of opportunity that we need to grab."
Baidu reported forecast-beating results last month, helped by a surge in new advertisers and lower traffic acquisition costs.
Though dominant in China, Baidu's only presence outside the country is a loss-making Japanese operation, and Li said Baidu also faced more competition from domestic Internet firms.
"Although our main competitor claims they are exiting the market, they are still very accessible these days," said Li, referring to Google Inc's operations in China. "We are also facing competition from some of the larger domestic Internet companies. Everybody knows that search is very profitable, and they want to get into this space," he said.
Domestic rivals include Sohu , Alibaba Group's e-commerce firm Taobao and China's largest Internet firm by market value, Tencent Holdings.
Shares in Baidu, which has cornered more than 60 percent of China's 7 billion yuan ($1 billion) search market, soared this year after U.S. rival Google shut its local search site, saying it would no longer comply with Beijing censorship rules.
Li, who grew up during the Cultural Revolution and was born to factory workers, believes a local Chinese firm such as Baidu is at a potential disadvantage, having to abide by Chinese laws.
"Our cost is higher; we have to block certain types of content that our competitors don't need to. That doesn't give us a better user experience," Li said, during the rare half-hour media roundtable at which the affable and charismatic chief executive answered several questions on censorship.
Li said Baidu had to pay engineers and editors to screen content to ensure that its searches complied with local law.
The government requires search engines with a presence on the mainland to self-censor politically sensitive keywords such as exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
Google's partial pull-out of China in March angered Beijing, and since then the company has been trying to maintain its foothold in the rapidly developing market by redirecting users to its Hong Kong site.
Unlike much of Chinese industry, which is dominated by state-owned enterprises, China's Internet industry is a rare example where private owners are in the driving seat.
"My guess is that it is too late; there is already a huge, significant portion of the Internet realm that is owned by private industry," Li said.
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