BEIJING: China's leading internet search firm is planning to offer a Japanese language service from next year to compete with global giants Google and Yahoo.

The company is currently setting up an office in Tokyo and hiring Japanese staff, but specific timings for the launch of the service have not been made public.

China has more than 120 million web users, the world's largest internet population after the US, and Baidu's site is the most visited in its home nation, according to web data provider Alexa Internet.

Yahoo's Chinese site ranks number six, while Google's English-language site ranks number eight. Its Chinese-language site is still lower in the popularity stakes.

Despite its domination of the domestic search sector, Baidu estimates Japan's annual search-engine revenue of $1 billion (€751m; £505m) is four to five times larger than the home market. It also believes it will have an advantage in the world's second largest economy because written Japanese is based on Chinese characters.

Comments ceo Robin Li: "We carefully studied the Japanese market. It's primarily dominated by two players we are very familiar with. We think we can do better."

He adds that Baidu's advantage in China comes not from any positive relationship with regulators, who have blocked access to certain sections of foreign sites, but because it is better at tailoring its services to local users' needs.

He says the company plans to do the same in Japan: "We understand the local user better."

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff