Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU), China’s biggest search engine, has engaged in a surprising bit of digital activism and patriotism, declaring that the islands disputed by both China and Japan (aka: Diaoyu/Senkaku) belong to China. To back this up, as spotted by Shanghaiist (via TNW), Baidu has three things: a Diaoyu Islands doodle on its Baidu.com homepage, a special portal for planting virtual Chinese flags on the rocky outpost (pictured above), and a giant flag atop the claimed territory within Baidu Maps.
But we can’t help but thinking that this is corporate suicide when it comes to Baidu’s overseas expansion plans – especially in Southeast Asia. Baidu already has operations in Japan, and unsurprisingly its Baidu.jp homepage  lacks a special doodle of this kind. But Baidu has even bigger ambitions for the Southeast Asia region, and today’s acts of patriotism and partisanship will have likely damaged massively the company’s chances – particularly for its recent ventures into Vietnam. Indeed, those tentative steps into Vietnam have already met with a backlash, since Vietnam and China have a separate territorial dispute over some different islands.
Baidu’s patriotism might play very well at home , but surely the search giant is now utterly toxic in the rest of the region. We’ve questioned Baidu HQ in Beijing on this specific issue, and will update if they can respond.
Baidu set up a research lab in Singapore this summer that’ll be a R&D base for research into Thai and Vietnamese languages and their application in semantic search. It’s a bold and very methodical expansion plan, showing that Baidu wants to do it right, and give Asia a credible challenger to Google. But all that investment risks being thrown away if Baidu’s actions at home make it a pariah among other nation’s web users.
Baidu’s explains its special features as a way “to encourage people to be rational in their expressions of patriotism, to renounce violence and other forms of extremism. Planting a digital flag to express your feelings on the matter of the Diaoyu Islands is a much better alternative to throwing rocks or smashing cars.” ↩