BEIJING, May 16 — Chinese internet giant Baidu announced today its slowest quarterly revenue growth in over a year, as competition between top players in the country’s cutting-edge tech sector intensifies.

Baidu is a key player in China’s tech industry, which once charted years of ballooning growth until Beijing imposed a regulatory crackdown on the sector starting in 2020.

The period of harsh oversight appears to be waning now as regulators look for ways to jumpstart an economy that has failed to pick up steam since the scrapping of tough pandemic measures in late 2022.

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Beijing-based Baidu operates China’s leading search engine and derives a large part of its revenue from advertising.

The firm achieved revenue of US$4.4 billion (RM20.6 billion) in the first quarter of 2024, according to an earnings report released Thursday at the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

The figure represents a year-on-year increase of one per cent — the slowest quarterly revenue growth recorded by Baidu since the final quarter of 2022.

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Net profit during the first quarter reached US$755 million, down six per cent year-on-year.

The latest results come after Baidu announced a sharp 169 per cent year-on-year rise in net income in 2023, according to annual results published in February.

Baidu faces increasingly formidable competition from domestic rivals including Tencent, the operator of ubiquitous messaging platform WeChat, and ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok.

The firm has poured investment into artificial intelligence, developing chatbot Ernie — equivalent to ChatGPT, which is blocked in China.

Baidu has also expanded operations in the growing autonomous vehicle sector, with fleets of driverless taxis in Beijing and other cities across the country.

During a surprise visit to Beijing last month by Tesla boss Elon Musk, reports emerged that the US automaker had entered into an agreement with Baidu regarding the provision of local mapping and navigation services.

Baidu’s announcement of results comes two days after the release of earnings reports by a pair of its Chinese tech giant peers, Tencent and Alibaba.

Tencent — one of the world’s leading gaming companies with other operations in messaging, content streaming and AI — also announced Tuesday its weakest quarterly revenue growth in over a year.

The same day saw e-commerce and tech giant Alibaba post moderate growth in its annual report for the fiscal year ended March 31, with revenue of US$130.4 billion, up eight per cent year-on-year.

Beijing has been seeking to increase state support for a flagging economy in recent months, as high youth unemployment and a spiralling debt crisis in the property sector threaten to drag down growth. — AFP