Billionaire Robin Li. Picture: BLOOMBERG/TOMOHIRO OHSUMI
Billionaire Robin Li. Picture: BLOOMBERG/TOMOHIRO OHSUMI

Beijing — The billionaire founder of China’s top internet search engine has declared he will fight fiercely and "win again" should Alphabet’s Google decide to return to the world’s largest internet arena.

Baidu CEO Robin Li, responding for the first time to reports the US search titan is plotting a return to a market it largely pulled out of in 2010, said on social media he’s confident of eliminating Google if needed.

Li’s post, to friends via his personal WeChat account, comes as Baidu’s shares have slid about 6% since the Intercept reported Google was designing a censored search engine to deploy in China within a year.

"If Google decides to return to China, we are very confident that we will PK once again and win again," he said, using a gaming term that’s come to mean to compete against. "In 2010, when Google withdrew from China, its market share was declining and Baidu’s market share had exceeded 70%."

Google is looking at ways to re-enter China, home to the biggest pool of internet users, through a search app that complies with Chinese censorship as well as through partnerships with local companies, people familiar with the matter have said.

After withdrawing, most of its services were blocked in the country. News of a potential return has been met with resistance from employees, and criticism from human rights advocates and legislators.

Li also referenced a commentary by the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, which welcomed Google’s return as long as it abided by local rules and regulations on censorship.

Chinese tech giants are constantly censored, and posts deemed harmful to social order are quickly erased from public view.

But Li argued China’s market had gone through "earthshaking changes" since Google’s departure, and Chinese technology companies were now leaders in solving new problems.

"The world is copying from China," he posted. "This is something every company wanting to enter the China market must carefully consider and face."