Google has quietly set up a company inside the Shanghai Free Trade Zone, but does this augur a return to China for the search giant?

Pengji Information Technology was registered last Christmas, local media reports claim.

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 December, 2015, 1:27pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 December, 2015, 12:15pm

Google has quietly set up a company inside the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone called Pengji Information Technology, according to local media reports.

According to Thepaper.cn, Pengji Information Technology (Shanghai) Ltd. was registered on December 25, 2014. Google Ireland Holdings, Google’s European headquarters, is listed as the firm’s sole shareholder, with William Anthony Farris as its legal representative, the report added.

The scope of the company’s business includes web page searching, information technology, computer software, technology transfer consulting and computer system integration. It has a registered capital of 5 million yuan (US$780,000), according to The Paper.

READ MORE: Google ‘never left’ China, Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt says at tech conference in Beijing

“Google keeps a low profile on purpose, and is not willing to make this public before making an official announcement of returning to China,” it quoted an industry source as saying.

The search giant pulled out of China in 2010, leading media to speculate on whether the establishment of a company in the experimental FTZ, which was launched in 2013 partly to test various economic and other reforms, betokens its imminent return.

When contacted by the South China Morning Post, Google was unavailable to comment on the issue.

Google left China five years ago amid a censorship feud with Beijing over search results, but not before a number of users of its Gmail service were subjected to cyberattacks. The company moved its online search service from mainland China to Hong Kong.

Under current Chinese law, overseas investors can increase their stake to over 50 per cent in internet access services based inside the Shanghai FTZ. However, foreign ownership of virtual private network businesses in the rest of China is capped at 50 per cent.

Earlier this year, reports emerged that Google was hoping to get approval from Beijing for a Chinese version of its Play store mobile app.

“Each Alphabet business can make its own decisions on which countries to operate in,” Google co-founder Sergey Brin was quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal.

“We already do quite a lot of business in China, although it has not been an easy country for us.” he added.

Google still sells ads to Chinese companies that are looking to advertise internationally through its offices in cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Social media giants Facebook and Twitter have also opened offices in Hong Kong to cater to Chinese clients who wish to advertise on their respective platforms.