Facebook charms China’s head internet regulator

Inside Facebook's journey from web based to native mobile app developmentDespite being blocked in China since 2009, Facebook Inc. recently welcomed Lu Wei, the minister of China’s Cyberspace Administration, to its Menlo Park campus in California.

A Chinese government-run newspaper released an article showing that Lu toured several American tech industry leaders, including Facebook, Amazon and Apple.

The pictures included in the article show Lu laughing during his tour with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who had surprised a Chinese university in October by conducting a Q&A session entirely in Mandarin. Zuckerberg had explained that he had been learning Mandarin since 2010 to better communicate with his Chinese-American wife’s family.

Lu was surprised to find a copy of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s book, The Governance of China, which Zuckerberg said he had also bought for a colleague to help them “understand Chinese socialism.”


Banned in China


The friendly visit contradicts China’s normally cold attitude toward external social media sites, especially Facebook.

China banned Facebook from the country in 2009 following anti-government riots, which used the site to spread political commentary critical of the Chinese government. The block has been lifted in a few very small areas, such as a business community in Shanghai, but the social network is still largely inaccessible in China.

Lu, a former propaganda chief in Beijing, supports China’s stance on censorship as an important part of protecting China’s citizens.

“China has always been very hospitable, but we can choose who enters our house,” Lu said. “We could not allow any companies to enter China and make money while hurting the country. […] I didn’t say Facebook could not enter China, but nor did I say that it could.”

China is well known for its strict internet censorship policies, colloquially referred to as “The Great Firewall of China.” Other American web services like Twitter are also blocked within the country.

The primary social media site used in China is Sina Weibo, a self-censoring microblog service that acts like a hybrid between Facebook and Twitter.

Many American companies, including Facebook, recognize the huge potential of the largely untapped Chinese market, which currently numbers at roughly 1.3 billion people, but the social and economic policies of the country make it difficult for foreign companies to gain access.