A Chinese news report today states that Facebook has struck a deal with Chinese search engine Baidu to set up a stand-alone social networking service in the country.

China is an important market for Facebook as it looks to grow ever larger. As we recently noted: “It’s undeniable how critical the country is for Facebook to finally hit the big one-billion mark. The country, however, has not been showing signs of easing up the Great Firewall– it still aggressively blocks off content, such as the events that occurred in Egypt recently.”

If today’s report proves true, it means that Facebook has opted to set up a service unconnected from its main network, allowing it to operate within the country in accordance with local laws and catering to local tastes.

Events have been pointing in the direction of such a deal for some time. Mark Zuckerberg visited China late last year, Facebook has set up an office in Hong Kong and Baidu staff reportedly visited Silicon Valley in February this year. So, if it does prove true, the deal seems to have been a few months in the making.

We’ve contacted Facebook for its side of the story and will update this post when we hear back.

Update: It seems that Facebook hasn’t fully moved forward, at least not yet. According to a Facebook spokesperson -

We are currently studying and learning about China, as part of evaluating any possible approaches that could benefit our users, developers and advertisers.

Facebook has otherwise denied this rumor, and has declined to issue further comment.