In a rare meeting last week, Facebook’s co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg met China’s propaganda tsar Liu Yunshan in Beijing as part of a charm offensive in one of the few markets where the social network cannot be accessed.
According to China’s state news agency Xinhua, the meeting, a first of its kind, was aimed at warming relations between Facebook and the Chinese government, even though Beijing has been increasing censorship of and control over the Internet.
Earlier this year, Beijing introduced new rules on online publication, which analysts say may place further curbs on foreign internet businesses trying to operate in China.
Zuckerberg was in Beijing for the China Development Forum, a government-sponsored conference bringing together top business executives and the country’s ruling elite and took time out to meet with Liu, who sits on the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee. The committee, which is the apex of power in China, praised Facebook’s technology and management methods.
According to Xinhua, Liu was heard telling Zuckerberg that China “hopes (Facebook) can strengthen exchanges, share experiences and improve mutual understanding with China’s Internet companies.”
Zuckerberg has achieved celebrity status in China, one of the few markets where Facebook and other foreign Internet platforms, including Alphabet Inc’s Google services and Twitter Inc, are not available due to tight government controls.
He has long sought to improve his company’s relationship with the Chinese authorities, and now sits on the advisory board of the School of Economics and Management at China’s elite Tsinghua University.
Zuckerberg began his remarks to the forum in Mandarin, speaking about the promise of artificial intelligence, particularly devices such as self-driving cars and medical diagnostics. He sidestepped sensitive issues, talking instead about technology and his family.
“The one thing I am extremely optimistic about for China is the emphasis on engineering,” Zuckerberg said. However, he did not respond to a question from Reuters about Facebook’s plans to do business in China.
Foreign companies in China, especially in media, face political pressure from a range of regulations. The country’s military newspaper calls the Internet the most important front in an ideological battle against “Western anti-China forces”.
China, the world’s second largest economy, has the biggest Internet population, numbering almost 700 million people.
Gildshire Editor, Mia Russell