SINGAPORE--China's largest Internet search company, Baidu, says it is keen to expand its operations to Southeast Asia but currently does not have concrete plans to do so.
Speaking to reporters here Thursday, Wang Mengqiu, vice president of Baidu, said it was "too early" to discuss how the company will enter the Southeast Asian market with local language products.
And while it is also exploring plans to open an office in Singapore, this will not take place within the year, said Wang, who was in the city-state for the official opening of the Baidu-I2R Research Centre (BIRC). The facility is Baidu's first overseas partnership laboratory.
First announced in February, the laboratory will carry out research on online search based on Southeast Asian languages, combining technologies from both organizations. It will also cover other areas of research including natural language processing and information retrieval.
Native languages door to Southeast Asia
Lim Chuan Poh, chairman of Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), which oversees I2R, also announced here on Thursday that both the Singapore research agency and Chinese search giant had inked an agreement for Baidu to adopt the former's Vietnamese and Thai languages and speaker verification technologies.
He noted that local language online markets are currently underserved. English is dominated by Google and Chinese by Baidu, but there are not many other vendors focusing on other languages, he elaborated. As such, he believes I2R's native language technologies could extend the Chinese company's reach across other demographics and eventually penetrate the Southeast Asian market more comprehensively.
The chairman added both parties had committed 10 researchers each to staff BIRC currently, and have plans to increase this number but there is no firm timeline on this.
Li Haizhou, co-director of BIRC, who was also present at the opening ceremony, pointed out the laboratory has been operational for two months now and the researchers on hand have been collaborating to make the I2R technologies "more suitable for Baidu".
On the speaker verification technology, Wang said this will be incorporated into its Baidu Yi mobile operating system (OS) to allow users to conveniently unlock their smartphones using voice commands.
By comparison, many other Chinese smartphone makers run Google's Android OS, which does not have similar functionality, she noted.