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China's Sina Weibo Microblog Plans English-Language Version

JOE McDONALD   06/ 9/11 08:31 AM ET   AP

Sina Weibo English

BEIJING — Sina Corp., a popular Chinese Web portal, said Thursday it will launch an English-language microblog aimed at users abroad, entering a market dominated by U.S.-based Twitter.

The service will be a version of Sina's Chinese-language Weibo microblog, said a company spokesman, Mao Taotao.

"We're now developing an English-language microblog service, but there is no timetable to launch it," Mao said. "The service is aimed at overseas users, but we don't target users from a particular country."

Reports last week that Sina was considering such a service prompted suggestions it might be a rival to Twitter. But its appeal could be hurt by Chinese Internet controls that require microblog services to delete politically sensitive material.

"As a Chinese internet company, we will continue to abide by Chinese laws and regulations," said Mao, the Sina spokesman.

China's top Internet companies are profitable and growing fast but are only beginning to expand abroad.

The country has the world's most populous Internet market, with more than 450 million people online at the end of last year, according to the government. Beijing encourages Web use for business and education but operates an extensive filtering system to block access to material considered subversive or pornographic.

Sina CEO Charles Chao told Forbes magazine in March that Weibo has at least 100 employees monitoring content 24 hours a day.

Google Inc. closed its China-based search engine last year after saying it no longer wanted to abide by a government requirement to censor results.

Microblog services are hugely popular in China despite extensive government efforts to control content. Sina said last month the number of regular users of Weibo, launched in 2009, has risen to be more than 140 million.

Beijing appears to have tightened its Internet policing after online calls for protests like those that have swept the Middle East.

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Sina Corp.: http://www.sina.com

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Filed by Catharine Smith  |