American computer maker Dell and search giant Baidu have announced a partnership to produce tablet computers for the Chinese market. The news comes as device-makers Apple and Lenovo consolidate an ever-stronger leadership position on a market with 900 million mobile phone subscribers. But even capturing a fraction of this potential customer base would be a big deal.

“We have a partnership with Baidu and you know we have the Streak 5 tablet, so the partnership will be in that space,” a Dell spokeswoman said in an interview with Reuters yesterday, and added that the two companies would be collaborating on handsets as well as tablets.

The Dell Streak 5 is an Android tablet that was discontinued in the U.S. due to poor performance, but perhaps it can be revived in Mainland China.

According to a story in The Guardian:

“I suspect this is just Dell, who has a lot of problems on the mobile and tablet front, grasping at straws to get any kind of publicity that it can to make its product more attractive,” said Michael Clendenin, managing director of technology consultancy RedTech Advisors. “Ultimately in China, I still think it is Apple’s game, still for the iPad and iPhone.”

Cracking the red-hot China is the dream of every marketer with any product to sell, and a tie-up with China’s largest search engine has several advantages. The deal gives Dell an opportunity to make an entrance, where Baidu controls a near-80 percent share of the search market, which is larger even than the U.S. Partnering with such a major player also creates a potent distribution channel, and will help Dell to navigate the tricky bureaucracy that can be the bain of any company doing business in the communist nation.

As we’ve said time and again, it’s rarely technology that wins. Whatever the product Dell and Baidu create through their partnership, it will have to dislodge Apple from people imaginations. The Apple brand is already so strong in China that fake Apple stores have proliferated. Should Dell and Baidu be able to achieve this feat, then they’ve really accomplished something special through their partnership.