SAN FRANCISCO • Google's plans for China are even more ambitious than previously understood.
The Internet giant is in talks with Tencent Holdings, Inspur Group and other Chinese companies to offer its cloud services in the world's second-largest economy, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The discussions began early this year and Google narrowed partnership candidates to three firms in late March, according to one of the sources.
Trade tensions between China and the United States now loom over the effort, making it unclear whether the plans will proceed, the source said.
The disclosure comes just days after the revelation that Google is developing a version of its search engine for China that would block information the Beijing government considers sensitive.
If implemented, the move would mark a dramatic reversal by the Alphabet unit, which exited the mainland in 2010 after refusing to comply with its censorship practices.
The prospect of one of the most powerful American corporations bending to China's will drew immediate condemnation in Washington.
"It is a coup for the Chinese government and Communist Party to force Google - the biggest search engine in the world - to comply with their onerous censorship requirements, and sets a worrying precedent for other companies seeking to do business in China without compromising their core values," six US lawmakers, including Republican Senator Marco Rubio, wrote in a letter to Google's chief executive Sundar Pichai.
Shares of Tencent rose as much as 2.3 per cent in Hong Kong.
The goal of the cloud initiative is to run Google Internet-based services via the domestic data centres and servers of Chinese providers, similar to the way other US cloud companies access that market.
In most of the rest of the world, Google Cloud rents computing power and storage over the Internet, and sells a collection of workplace productivity apps called G Suite that are run on its own data centres.
China requires digital information to be stored in the country and Google has no data centres in the mainland, so it needs partnerships with local players.
Google Cloud chief Diane Greene said last week that she wants the business to "be a global cloud", but declined to comment specifically about China.
Still, the company is seeking a Shanghai-based business development manager for its cloud business.
The job posting lists "experience in, and knowledge of, the Chinese market" as a preferred qualification.
A Google Cloud spokesman declined to comment. Inspur and Ms Jane Yip, a Tencent spokesman, did not immediately respond to requests for comment last Friday.
A tie-up with large Chinese tech firms, such as Tencent and Inspur, a major cloud and server provider, would also give Google powerful allies as it attempts a broader return to China, where it pulled its search engine in 2010 over censorship concerns.
Google is building a cloud data centre region in Hong Kong this year and opened an artificial intelligence research centre in Beijing in January.
A cloud partnership for Google in China would help the company compete more with larger rivals Amazon.com and Microsoft.
In late 2017, Amazon agreed to sell its Chinese servers and some other cloud assets to local partner Beijing Sinnet Technology. The move mirrored a similar set-up between Microsoft and its local partner 21Vianet Group.
With Tencent, Google would have an even more high-profile ally - but would also go up against local competitors, including Alibaba Group Holding.
Tencent founder Pony Ma is a representative of China's National People's Congress, and Inspur, formerly the state-owned Shandong Electronics Devices Plant, could provide political cover for Google as it seeks to gain approval from the authorities to operate more of its largest businesses in the country.