Google has announced that it’s opening a Google Cloud Platform (GCP) region in Hong Kong.

Launching sometime in 2018, it will be Google’s sixth Asia-Pacific (APAC) region after Singapore, Sydney, Taiwan, Tokyo, and the recently announced Mumbai region.

Above: Hong Kong: Coming in 2018

Hong Kong represents a notable addition to Google’s global roster of cloud regions. The company has yet to launch its cloud platform in mainland China, despite rivals Microsoft and Amazon’s AWS having offered cloud services there for a number of years, albeit in partnership with local players.

China isn’t exactly embracing foreign cloud companies, however. Regulators have been tightening rules on foreign data and cloud services while also implementing new surveillance measures around cross-border data transfers. Amazon recently announced it was selling off the hardware from its public cloud business to Chinese partner Sinnet to comply with local law.

Google, for its part, has had a fractious relationship with China, with many of the internet giant’s services banned or heavily restricted in the country. The company’s lack of cloud service in China has had a knock-on effect for Google’s clients who may wish to launch in the country. Snapchat is one such example. Its parent company, Snap, opened a Chinese office last year, but in a filing a few months later it conceded that its hands were tied in terms of launching in China. Snap said:

Access to Google, which currently powers our infrastructure, is restricted in China, and we do not know if we will be able to enter the market in a manner acceptable to the Chinese government.

Snap later signed a separate cloud services deal with Amazon’s AWS.

Cloud conundrum

While Google is still indicating that it doesn’t plan to launch in China, its long-term cloud success may lean heavily on the country. As a Special Administrative Region, Hong Kong is afforded a degree of autonomy and could serve as a gateway of sorts to mainland China, though how exactly that would work isn’t clear. Officially, Google said that its new Hong Kong region is purely about serving that one market.

“Hong Kong has just begun its digital transformation, and this new GCP region will make it easier for Hong Kong companies to build highly available, performant applications,” wrote Rick Harshman, Google Cloud’s managing director for Asia-Pacific, in a blog post.

“Hong Kong is an international commercial hub and is among the world’s leading service-oriented economies,” he added.

Google previously intended to launch datacenters in Hong Kong, but it shelved those plans in 2013 to focus on Taiwan and Singapore. “While we see tremendous opportunity and potential in Hong Kong…we will not be moving ahead with this project,” a Google spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal at the time, citing cost and the lack of available land in Hong Kong as among its reasons for ditching the plans.

Earlier this year, Amazon announced plans to open a region in Hong Kong next year, while Microsoft has yet to reveal its intentions on this front.

Google has launched a number of new GCP regions this year, including its first in Latin America, which opened in Brazil back in September. Again, this brought Google in line with Amazon and Microsoft, which had operated cloud infrastructure in the region for several years.

In many ways, Google has always been playing catch-up in terms of global cloud service provision. But its services are immensely popular around the world, so having local infrastructure to ensure high performance and low latency is integral to the company’s mission, irrespective of any longer-term plans it may have to enter mainland China.