Shenma, a mobile search engine that Chinese browser-maker UCWeb recently formed in a joint venture with e-commerce giant Alibaba, already has a market penetration rate of over 20 percent and monthly active users of over 100 million, UCWeb CEO Yu Yongfu said at GMIC Beijing today.

Shenma was announced last week but Yu said it has been in operation for a month or so. The cooperation between UCWeb and Alibaba actually dates back to four years ago as a service within UC Browser, Yu added. In addition to semantic app search — via a single interface that lets users search China’s many fragmented app stores — and book search, Shenma is “deeply integrated” with a range of Alibaba products, including its Alipay payments service, and Taobao and T-Mall retail stores.

Alibaba previously invested in UCWeb — which recently hit 500 million quarterly users and sees more than six billion mobile search queries per month. Yu noted at his GMIC keynote that given UCWeb’s over 50 percent penetration rate in China’s browser market, promoting Shenma to its users contributed to the rapid pick-up for the new service.

Yu also claimed that Chinese search giant Baidu has been threatened by Shenma, and has allegedly intercepted links from Shenma search results with a warning to users that they are using an unrecognized search engine and advising users to switch. Yu also claimed that Baidu has been manipulating UC Browser’s app ranking in 91 Wireless’ mobile assistant, which was acquired by Baidu last year.

Yu said that UCWeb has been in talks with Baidu to try to iron out their issues.

UCWeb seems to be growing at impressive speed and stepping into Baidu’s turf is bound to shake things up in the industry. The browser-maker has a strong localization policy when it expands into new markets, and it appeals particularly to emerging markets by using data compression technology to minimize the cost of browsing and downloading.

Headline image via UCWeb