Is Google Maps coming back to China?

Alphabet Inc’s Google is now easier to access in China after eight years, according to Nikkei. This is said to be Google’s latest attempt at making its way back into the country.

While the US tech giant’s flagship search engine is still inaccessible in the country, users have discovered mobile apps with map functions based on Google data have become accessible in recent days. But users who try to access the app’s navigation features are automatically redirected to AutoNavi, a mapping app operated by Alibaba.

This comes shortly after the news that the US-based tech giant joined an investment in Chushou, a Chinese live-stream mobile game platform, which suggests the company is making new inroads in the Chinese market.

“There have been no changes to Google Maps in China,” said Taj Meadows, head of Google’s policy communications in Asia Pacific, according to Nikkei. Although Google Maps have been accessible on the desktop for years, the map service does not have an official presence in Android or iOS app stores in China, Meadows added.

Google closed down its Chinese search engine over the government censorship requirements, most of its popular services have not been available in China since 2010. The timing of the increasing availability of Google’s services and its presence suggests a shift in policy in China. Although under President Xi Jinping the government intensified its cybersecurity regulations that came into effect in June 2017, the country is also keen to develop artificial intelligence (AI) technologies and autonomous vehicle—an area Google leads. This may force Google to put aside past grudges and the government to soften its stance towards the tech giant to collaborate on AI development. Last month, Google announced the launch of its new Beijing AI research center.