Google, part of Alphabet Inc, aims to launch the China version of its Google Play smartphone app store next year, according to people familiar with the matter, its first major foray in the market since ending localized product support in 2010.
The Google Play app store would be set up specifically for China, and not connected to overseas versions of Google Play, two of the people said.
A Singapore-based Google spokesman declined to comment.
Five years ago, Google pulled its major services -- including online search, e-mail and mapping -- out of the Chinese mainland due to disagreements on regulations.
"Google is in constant dialogue with Beijing as it seeks to better serve the country," said Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet Inc, the parent company of Google, during his recent visit to the country in November.
One of the main reasons behind his China visit is to strengthen the links between the company and the country, according to Schmidt.
"About 500 employees remained on the company's roll after we left, and Google has lots of partners (in China) and we also have offices in the greater China region -- in Taiwan and Hong Kong," said Schmidt. "The interesting thing is that Google never left China."
The US company would use a successful app store as a launch pad to place other products and services in China, said two people familiar with Google's thinking.
They said, however, that the company has not settled on which product might come next.
Chief Executive Sundar Pichai and other top brass have made no secret that the company wants to get back into China, and Google Play would likely be its first foray.
But critics say Google has lost basically all ground in most of its major services, especially search and video streaming, to Chinese players.
For Google, having a product in China would be a symbolic gesture to show that the company values the market, said Shen Si, CEO of Chinese mobile advertising company PapayaMobile and a former Google employee.
"If they want to break the ice with the Chinese market then they have to pick a pretty important product to make available to the Chinese people and make it really localized," she said.
Google has had its employees working hard in China to lay the ground for the app store's launch, said one of the people with knowledge of executives' plans.
The US-based firm is hoping to launch Google Play in China some time after Chinese New Year in February next year, and before early summer, that person said. Another person at a company in China that works with Google said the store will go live in 2016.
The company hopes the app store will include payment options such as Alipay, the online payment service from Alibaba Group Holding Ltd's finance arm Ant Financial Services Group, and Tencent Holding Ltd's WeChat Payment, said the person familiar with executives' thinking.
Spokeswomen for Ant Financial and Tencent declined to comment.
Last month, Google said it would take a minority stake in Beijing-based artificial intelligence firm Mobvoi as part of a $75 million fundraising round, as the US search giant tries to rebuild its presence in China.