Google is welcome to return to China but only if it complies with the law, according to an opinion piece by state-backed newspaper People's Daily, after reports surfaced that the U.S. technology giant is planning to launch a censored version of its search service on the mainland.
The Intercept reported last week that Alphabet-owned Google is planning to re-launch its search engine in China and that it would blacklist certain websites and search terms. Google originally left China in 2010 over concerns regarding censorship.
Reports of such a move from Google raised concerns from privacy advocates because it would block material online that the Chinese government does not like. But the country's state-backed media has taken a different view.
"Regardless of its withdrawal, or whether it can regain access to the mainland, Google has been a politicized brand. This is undoubtedly a tragedy for this well-known multinational company," People's Daily wrote in an article published Monday.
"The decision to exit the Chinese market was a huge blunder, which made the company miss golden chances in the mainland's internet development."
People's Daily said Google is "welcome to return to the mainland, but it's a prerequisite that it must comply with the requirements of the law."
Those requirements are essentially policed by Beijing's so-called Great Firewall, which is a huge policy of censorship. For example, Google can't be accessed right now by most Chinese internet users. And many other services, including Facebook, are also blocked. Some websites can also be censored if they are deemed unfavorable.
The link to the opinion piece is broken but CNBC made a screen grab of the page before it mysteriously disappeared.
People's Daily tried to justify Beijing's stance on online censorship saying that "no country will allow the internet to be filled with pornography, violence, subversive messages, ethnic separatism, religious extremism, racism and terrorism." This is false, of course, as pornography and racism can be found online in many parts of the world.
Google did not specifically comment on the People's Daily article but pointed CNBC toward the original statement it released when the story first broke, in which it said that it provides a number of apps in China and has made significant investments in companies on the mainland, such as JD.com. "But we don't comment on speculation about future plans," a spokesperson said.
The CEO of Baidu, the biggest search engine in China, responded to the news Google could launch a rival product. Robin Li said that Google would need to contend with the strength of Chinese companies.
"Over the years, our industrial environment and scale of development have undergone earth-shaking changes. Chinese technology companies have already taken the lead in the world in discovering new issues and serving new demands. The world is copying from China. This is what every international company that wants to enter the Chinese market needs to confront and think about," Li said in a status update on messaging service WeChat.
Li said that Google launched its search service in China before Baidu. But when Google withdrew its search engine from China in 2010, its market share was in decline and Li claimed this was because Baidu had surpassed the U.S. firm with "technology and product innovation."
"If Google comes back now, we can... win again, for real," Li said.
Google declined to respond to Li's comments.
Correction: This article has been altered to reflect that The Intercept reported last week that Alphabet-owned Google is planning to re-launch its search engine in China.