Baidu.com is currently exploring the possibility of joining the handful of Chinese dot-coms listed on the Nasdaq, riding the wave of returning investor enthusiasm for Chinese dot-coms on the back of a Web traffic boom.

Shares of China's top websites, Sina.com, Sohu.com and NetEase.com, rose between 220 and 420 per cent in 2003, suggesting that the time may well be right for Baidu. A Beijing-based company, Baidu is China's most popular search engine, according to Li, with an average of 30 million text searches a day in Chinese. About 80 per cent of turnover in 2003 came from sponsored links.

"China's Internet population is growing at a very rapid rate and at some point sooner or later it's going to become the largest Internet population in the world," Mr Li is quoted as saying in an interview with Reuters in Shanghai. "People, not only in China but also from other countries, realise this means great potential and a huge market."

Other China-focused Web operators looking to cash in on the explosive growth of Web users – and an increased willingness to pay for online services – include online game provider Shanda Networking Co Ltd, which is pursuing a US$300 million IPO, and China-focused media firm tom.com Ltd, which is spinning off its Internet assets into a new publicly listed company.

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