Google has been offered help from an unlikely source in its controversial bid to return to China.

Chinese search company, Sogou, said it would be willing to partner with Google to help it launch a censored search engine, codenamed “Project Dragonfly.”

Sogou’s CEO Wang Xiaochuan told the MIT Technology Review that the company could help Google navigate governmental regulation.

“If Google wants to come back to China, there could be several incentives for working together with other parties,” Wang said. “Sogou could be the one to work with the Chinese government, and Google could stand behind us.”

Google left the Chinese market in 2010 after it discovered a coordinated cyber attack targeting human rights activists. At the time Google stated that it would no longer continue to allow censorship on its search engine.

But The Intercept reported in August that CEO Sundar Pichai was angling for a return to the Chinese market with a censored version of its search engine.

A middle-man between Google and the Chinese government

Sogou is China’s second largest search engine, behind Baidu. Contrary to seeing Google’s return as increased competition, Wang said Sogou could act as the middle-man between Google and the Chinese government.

“Sogou will be the one to deal with the government, to comply with the laws and regulations,” he said. “Then the other parts of Google’s services will be provided in China.”

“One way would be for Sogou to operate the brand, and Google provide the technologies. If it considers working with Sogou, it would probably achieve better success,” Wang added.

Wang said Google may have the tech, but does not have the market smarts. “In terms of general technology capabilities, Google is still very strong, [but] in terms of Chinese search functions, the quality of Google has probably fallen behind,” he said.

Google’s China plans, which it confirmed for the first time last week, have stirred contention both internally and externally. A former Google scientist last week penned a letter to US senators saying that Google management is “clamping down” on whistleblowers trying to lift the lid on Project Dragonfly details.

In August, a group of major human rights organisations sent an open letter to Pichai demanding that he kill the project so as not to accommodate “one of the world’s most repressive internet censorship and surveillance regimes.”

Google’s chief privacy officer Keith Enright told senators last week that Google is not close to launching a search product in China. He confirmed the existence of Project Dragonfly, but avoided giving specifics, saying he was “not clear on the contours of what is in scope or out of the scope of that project.”