Google's brand awareness among Chinese users has soared since the company announced last week that it may pull out of the country, according to a domestic research firm.
That may provide fresh fodder for those who believe the threat of Google's possible retreat from China is a market tactic to shore up its No 2 position in the country's search-engine market.
Edward Yu, president of domestic research firm Analysys International, told China Daily yesterday that his company has sensed a significant growth of search inquiries for Google.
"The search inquiries for Google have seen a great rise during the past few days in China and a large number of them came from third- and fourth-tier cities, where previously few people know about the company," said Yu.
He said searches from outside big cities have risen "many times" compared with a week ago, but said he needed more time to review the figures.
The world's largest search engine said last Wednesday that the company had detected a "highly sophisticated and targeted attack from China" that resulted in the theft of the company's intellectual property.
The company said it will no longer continue censoring results on Google.cn, the Chinese-language website it launched in 2006. It also said it is in discussions with the government and is prepared to shut down its Chinese offices.
Google yesterday also said it postponed the planned launch of its mobile phone in China, AP reported.
Spokeswoman Marsha Wang said a launch ceremony planned for today was canceled but declined to give a reason for the decision or to say when the launch might be rescheduled.
Google's phone is an effort by the company to join in competition for a share of China's mobile phone market, which is the world's most populous.
Although there are no figures yet from other research firms to corroborate Analysys' findings, an online traffic track tool provided by Baidu Inc, Google's major competitor in China, revealed that search inquiries for the US search engine increased 79 percent in China during the past week.
It said besides major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, users in other cities such as Zhengzhou, Nanjing and Xi'an were also among the top cities where Google drew interest.
During the past few days, it has appeared that Google has lowered its tone on its threat to retreat from China.
CEO Eric Smith said in an interview with Newsweek on Friday that it was possible that the company can work out an agreement with the Chinese government and continue to operate in the country.
It was also reported that Google is investigating whether employees in its China office were involved in the attacks on its network.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said yesterday that foreign enterprises doing business in China, including Google, should respect Chinese laws and regulations.
Ma said at a regular news briefing that companies coming to China should "respect the public good and cultural traditions in China, and bear a social responsibility".
"Google is, of course, no exception," he added.
Global Internet users who visit google.cn increased 9.9 percent during the past seven days, according to figures from Alexa.com, an Internet traffic tracker.
Traffic to "g.cn", a shorter domain name that Google owns for Google.cn, also increased 20 percent during the period.
Google China said yesterday in an online statement that the company was functioning as usual. It said reports about Google shutting down its Chinese offices are not true, and employees are still at work.
AP contributed to the story