Commentary

Zuck Meets China Propaganda Chief

Hope springs eternal but the Great Wall is pretty damn long too, and it’s anyone’s guess who will prevail in the end. Ever optimistic, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with China’s propaganda chief in his never-ending quest to gain access to the world’s largest online population, but the chances that China’s control-obsessed government will admit the social network without heavy concessions (including censorship) are just about nil.

Zuckerberg met propaganda chief Liu Yunshan on the sidelines of the China Development Forum in Beijing, where he also attracted social media attention with his brave decision to go jogging in the famously smog-filled city. This is Zuck’s second high-profile visit as part of his long-term charm offensive: previously, in October 2015 he made headlines by delivering a 20-minute speech in Mandarin during a visit to Shanghai.

Currently Facebook, like Google and Twitter, remains banned in China, but Liu hinted at a possible relaxation of the ban if Facebook were to partner with Chinese Internet companies -- and, implicitly, submit to far-ranging censorship of content created by Chinese users. This would effectively create a two-tiered social network, with Chinese users using a heavily controlled version of Facebook separate from that used by the rest of the world.

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In typically opaque fashion, Liu encouraged Facebook to “strengthen exchanges, share experiences and improve mutual understanding with China's Internet companies.” In addition to his meetings with high-ranking officials, including a meeting with China’s top Internet official, Lu Wei, at Facebook headquarters, Zuckerberg is a member of the advisory board at Tsinghua University, one of China’s top academic institutions. In his personal life, Zuckerberg is married to Priscilla Chan, a Chinese-American.

Currently, the Chinese social media market is dominated by home-grown companies, principally Sina Weibo, a microblogging site which combines aspects of Twitter and Facebook, while Baidu functions as a search engine akin to Google, and e-commerce giant Alibaba provides a counterpart to Amazon.

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