One year ago, during China’s senior executive official in charge of cybersecurity and internet policy (Lu Wei) visit in Silicon Valley, Mark Zuckerberg was quoted as saying that he had bought China’s President Xi Jinping book “The Governance of China” to his colleagues because he…”wanted them to understand socialism with Chinese characteristics”.
Zuckerberg’s statement and bold move received heavy criticism and was characterised as ‘hypocritical’ by many commentators back then. China has an extremely restrictive internet policy and Facebook itself is banned in the country, therefore his CEO’s willingness to ‘understand socialism with Chinese characteristics’ was perceived rather ambiguously.
Zuckerberg also received criticism for his poor fluency in Chinese then,as he tried to conduct a whole Q&A in Mandarin. However, despite the effort, Lu Wei talked strongly against FB (among Apple and Amazon as well, companies that he had also visited during the same trip in the US) and passionately defended China’s interests. A few weeks after his visit, he was quoted as saying that ‘Facebook “cannot” win access in China anytime soon’ (WEF, Tianjin, September 2014). Debbie Frost (Facebook spokeswoman) declined to comment. Apparently, it needed more than a willingness to learn Chinese and some book copies to make it happen.
A year later, Zuckerberg speaks much more fluently, in fact he recently gave his first ever speech in Chinese at Tsinghua University in Beijing, he has joined the board of Tsinghua’s School of Economics and Management, he has quietly opened a China office in Beijing last year, developers of software from China make up about 20 percent of Facebook’s partner network in Asia, he has been talking with local advertisers and he states that he has a strong sense of mission to change the world.
700+ million users in China are definitely worth the effort. But this is not about the obvious, in my opinion. Lo Shih-hung, a professor at the National Chung Cheng University’s Department of Communication in Taiwan has been quoted as saying last year: ”The Chinese market is too attractive not to be in…But for Facebook to get into the market, it might require them to make comprises ranging from setting up a local operation to sharing user data”.
This is about a breakthrough beyond any kind of ‘mission’ and a spark plug on Facebook’s global footprint in the future. The next episode is really close and possibly very successful, in my opinion.