Mark Zuckerberg is back in China.
The Facebook CEO posted a photo of him visiting with Chinese students at the Tsinghua School of Economics and Management in Beijing on Saturday, more than one year after his last public trip to the country.
Zuckerberg’s latest visit to China comes as Facebook eyes what one analyst recently said is “a realistic opportunity” for the company to finally enter the world’s largest internet market by users in 2018.
While Facebook’s service has been banned in China since 2009, the social network recently tapped William Shuai from LinkedIn to lead relations with the Chinese government. Facebook has also been covertly testing a photo-sharing app in China and is said to be on the hunt for a Shanghai office for its fledgling consumer hardware division, Building 8.
In his Facebook post on Saturday, Zuckerberg said he was in China for a meeting of the Tsinghua school’s advisory board, of which he has been a member since 2014. “Every year this trip is a great way to keep up with the pace of innovation and entrepreneurship in China,” he wrote.
Facebook has flirted with the idea of entering China for years, a move that could give it access to a vast new market of users and advertisers at a time when the company is under pressure to continue showing strong growth to investors. Zuckerberg has learned Mandarin well enough to become a proficient speaker of the language.
Facebook could create its own censorship tool for China
During his last public trip to China in March 2016, Zuckerberg met with the country’s propaganda chief and other government leaders. It’s unclear whether he plans to meet with government officials again during this trip — a Facebook spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on his trip schedule.
As the world’s largest concentration of internet users, China is an attractive but challenging region for American tech companies like Facebook to break into. The government recently blocked Facebook-owned WhatsApp amidst a crackdown of online censorship.
Google famously pulled its search engine service out of mainland China in 2010, after claiming that the country’s censorship requirements had become too onerous and saying it had traced efforts to breach its users’ accounts to China.
One way Facebook has considered getting back into China is by creating its own censorship tool that would automatically suppress certain posts in specific geographic areas, The New York Times reported last year. It’s unclear if the tool is still being developed.
Facebook’s window of opportunity to begin business in the country could be drawing near as Chinese President Xi Jinping begins his second term in November, according to Mizuho analyst James Lee, who recently noted that “media scrutiny and sensitivity are much less during an administration’s second term.”
According to Lee, Facebook’s current approach of helping Chinese advertisers sell ads overseas also “appears to be aligned with Chinese government’s policy to globalize local companies,” and could finally lead to the company securing the coveted Internet Content Provider (ICP) licence needed to officially do business in China.
By ALEX HEATH