On the first leg of his official state visit to the US in September, President Xi Jinping met with Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg in Seattle.
Zuckerberg spoke with him in fluent Mandarin during their conversation.
After Zuckerberg uploaded his picture with the Chinese leader to his Facebook account, he drew more than half million “likes” in one day.
Chinese netizens had access to Facebook until it was banned in 2009 by Chinese authorities who feared it might be used as a platform by dissidents and human rights activists to rally public support.
The Arab Spring uprisings that swept across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 in which Facebook and Twitter played a pivotal role in mobilizing crowds deepened Beijing’s suspicions about social media.
Instagram has been banned in the mainland since the end of 2014.
Some suspect its role in spreading information and messages during last year’s democracy protests as the reason for the clampdown.
Facebook has never given up trying to re-enter the Chinese market.
It has 1.44 billion active users worldwide, with a year-on-year growth rate of 13 percent, making it the world’s second most visited website behind Google.
But growth has been slowing in recent years, suggesting its market might be nearing saturation.
Competitors such as Snapchat, which is becoming increasingly popular among teenagers, is closing in fast.
Chief executive Evan Spiegel, who earlier rejected Zuckerberg’s offer to buy his company, warned Facebook could become the next Yahoo if it fails to introduce new ideas for the teenage market.
No wonder Facebook is eager to win China’s 600 million internet users.
If Facebook wants to re-enter the Chinese market, it would have to comply with Beijing’s stricter censorship rules, according to China watcher Bill Bishop.
These include turning over users’ personal data when requested by the authorities, he said.
Some analysts said people should not read too much into the meeting between Xi and Zuckerberg.
They could have warmed to each other as a friendly gesture — nothing to do with Facebook’s efforts to get back on China’s good side.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 19.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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