There is a fresh batch of reports lighting up the World Wide Web today that Facebook may be close to securing a deal to set up shop in China. Only it wouldn’t be Facebook as we know it.


The rumours spreading fast are that Facebook is on the verge of signing a partnership with Chinese search engine Baidu to produce a new social network. 


Baidu is China’s largest search engine, but has precocious social networking players like instant messaging service Tencent (with 636 million accounts) expanding their services and challenging the old guard.


Facebook responded to the fierce speculation, releasing a short statement that did little to hose down the rumours.


"Facebook is currently studying and learning about China,” the statement read, “as part of evaluating any possible approaches that could benefit our users, developers and advertisers."

Last year, Mark Zuckerberg made it clear China was very much on Facebook’s radar.

“How can you connect the whole world if you leave out a billion people?” he said in a speech at Stanford University in October.

Zuckerberg said late adopter markets like South Korea, Japan and Russia would become priorities this year, and form part of the roadmap to getting China on board.

“We have to carve off China. That one is extremely complex and has its own dynamics,” he said. “Our theory is that if we can show that we as a Western company can succeed in a place where no other country has, then we can start to figure out the right partnerships we would need to succeed in China on our terms.”

Unlike Google, which has been banned in the past by the Chinese government due to its refusal to censor content (and now automatically redirects to the Hong Kong site), Facebook has remained open to the possibility of altering settings based on the market.

“On the philosophical question of openness, my view is that every country is pretty different. We’d want to be pretty culturally sensitive,” Zuckerberg said last year. “I don’t want Facebook to be an American company. I don’t want it to be a company that spreads American values across the world.”

Facebook project paving the way for… Facebook?

What do you think? Would a new Chinese social network operated by Facebook, but not Facebook, just be a step in Facebook’s plan to ultimately launch the real Facebook. Or do you think China could not practically engage in a global network. Please drop a comment below…