A Google spokeswoman said the company did not have a comment for this article.

For Alphabet, any play at significant expansion in China would bring unique challenges.

Its major moneymaking activities, such as search and video, run up against the Communist Party’s controls on information in a way that online shopping, for instance, does not.

Google would have to overcome a lack of name recognition among young Chinese. And it would face a tough fight against homegrown incumbents with Silicon Valley-like money to burn — including in areas like self-driving cars, in which Alphabet is arguably the global leader.

Waymo’s company registration in China still puts it a long way from having wheels on the road. Its Shanghai subsidiary has an initial capitalization of about $500,000. A visit on Friday to the address listed on its registration filing turned up only a cramped, unmarked office, empty but for some simple furniture.

Even with more investment, Waymo’s place in the Chinese market is hardly assured.

Baidu, maker of the country’s leading search engine, has made its autonomous-vehicle software platform available to dozens of local and foreign companies. SAIC Motor, China’s largest carmaker, is working with the e-commerce titan Alibaba. BMW and Daimler have received permission in China to test their own self-driving vehicles.

That might leave only China’s newer, smaller automakers for Waymo should it someday seek a local partner for building intelligent cars, said Yale Zhang, managing director at Automotive Foresight, a consultancy in Shanghai.

“That’s their chance,” Mr. Zhang said.

A Waymo spokeswoman confirmed that the company had set up and staffed a legal entity in China, but declined to comment on further plans.

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