Facebook may be close to striking a deal with Baidu, the biggest Chinese search engine, to open a jointly-owned social network in China, according to reports in the Chinese press, citing inside sources.
These sources said the new venture wouldn’t involve Facebook.com, which is blocked inside China like many more social networking sites, but a jointly owned, new social networking website. It’s unclear when the site could launch: joint ventures need to be approved by the Chinese government and that can take a while, and they have to staff it up with experienced executives that both sides can agree on.
There had been reports of this in the Western press but it’s the first tangible thing we’ve seen. Last year Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg traveled to China and met with Baidu CEO Robin Li.
The deal makes sense for both sides. On Facebook’s side, it needs a big local partner to break into the huge Chinese market. On Baidu’s side, it is threatened by social network juggernaut Tencent, and it might be a safer bet to build a social network with one of the most successful social companies in the world than to try to build its own.
Update: Sources have told us that no deal has actually been signed. Facebook issued the following statement: “Facebook is currently studying and learning about China, as part of evaluating any possible approaches that could benefit our users, developers and advertisers.”