Facebook launches charm offensive. Can it win over Chinese officials?

Mark Zuckerberg does an interview in Mandarin Chinese, and now the Facebook CEO told a Chinese official that he bought copies of President Xi Jinping's new book for employees to read.

Tsinghua University/AP
Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, left, speaks during a dialogue with students as a newly-appointed member to the advisory board for Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management in Beijing, China on Oct. 22.

It's either a case of political kowtowing or extreme admiration. 

Mark Zuckerberg told China's chief Internet officer that he is reading "The Governance of China" by Chinese President Xi Jinping, and he bought copies for other Facebook employees, according to The Paper, a state-run Chinese news outlet. 

“I’ve also bought copies of this book for my colleagues,” Mr. Zuckerberg reportedly said. “I want them to understand socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

The Governance of China is an 18-chapter compilation of 79 speeches by Chairman Xi between November 15, 2012 to June 13, 2014. Each item has notes about Chinese culture and information about Xi's life. The book was translated into nine languages and is being distributed worldwide by Foreign Languages Press. In the book, Xi explains how China works, what the country's plans are for the coming years, and what he means by "rejuvenating the Chinese nation."

Lu Wei, minister of the Cyberspace Administration of China, visited Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. The date and reason of the visit weren't reported. In photos of the visit, Mr. Wei is sitting in Zuckerberg's desk with a picture of the book in the lower righthand corner. The Paper included photos of Wei meeting Apple head Tim Cook and Amazon chief Jeff Bezos. 

Wei told state-run media in September that the social media site "cannot" win access in China anytime soon. The site has been blocked by "The Great Fireswall" since July 2009 because of a violent riot in China’s Xingjiang province, where almost 200 people died. Protesters used Facebook to help plan and spread the word about the riot. The social media site then opened offices in Hong Kong, but in May, Facebook reportedly signed a three-year lease for an office in Beijing's business district. 

In October, Zuckerberg did a 30-minute question-and-answer session at Tsinghua University in Mandarin Chinese. During the interview he said in Mandarin, “We’re already in China. We help Chinese companies increase foreign customers, they use Facebook ads to find more customers.” 

“The Chinese market is too attractive not to be in,” Lo Shih-hung, a professor at the National Chung Cheng University’s Department of Communication in Taiwan, told Bloomberg. “For Facebook to get into the market, it might require them to make [compromises] ranging from setting up a local operation to sharing user data."

But the move hasn't gone over well with Chinese activists fighting for Internet freedom. Hu Jia, a Beijing-based dissident, said Internet advocates are upset at Facebook's "brown-nosing" of a government that suppresses freedom of expression online. 

"Zuckerberg is an [I]nternet genius, the founder of the Facebook empire. Yet his understanding of Chinese politics is like that of a three-year-old not a 30-year-old," Mr. Jia told The Daily Telegraph. "He is like a Red Guard waving the White Book now. He knows nothing about Xi, nothing about China, even though he is studying Chinese."

"In China, the top three enemies of [I]nternet are the Communist Party, Xi Jinping, and Lu Wei," Jia added.

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