INTERNET: Zuckerberg, Sandberg Keep Up Facebook China Press

Bottom line: Mark Zuckerberg’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and new China-related remarks by Sheryl Sandberg show Facebook is closing in on a goal of launching its signature service in China, with a breakthrough possible as soon as next year.

Facebook thrives on China ad sales

Despite being blocked in the world’s largest Internet market, social networking (SNS) giant Facebook (Nasdaq: FB) is using every opportunity to quietly remind the world that it’s determined to include China in its global footprint. Just a week after company founder Mark Zuckerberg met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a high-profile event in Seattle, his chief deputy Sheryl Sandberg was quoted at an event in New York talking up the big business Facebook is already doing in China.

Company watchers will know that Facebook quietly opened a China office in Beijing last year, with an aim to courting local advertisers seeking to reach the company’s global audience of 1.5 billion users. That business is doing quite well, according to Sandberg, though the Facebook’s ultimate China goal is still its eventual entry into a domestic Internet market that boasts nearly 700 million web surfers.

I’ve predicted before that Facebook will finally get permission to enter China, though such a development has yet to happen despite high profile visits between Zuckerberg and some top Chinese leaders. Zuckerberg hosted one of China’s top Internet officials at Facebook’s Silicon Valley headquarters last year, where he shamelessly put a copy of a book by President Xi on his desk to be included in some photos later posted online by the Cyberspace Administration of China. (previous post)

Zuckerberg went one step further last week by flying to Seattle where he was one of several major tech leaders to attend a meeting with the actual President Xi on his recent landmark tour to the US. People who love to interpret these things noted that Zuckerberg was in the first row of a group picture that included the likes of Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) CEO Tim Cook and Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos. But some noted the youthful Zuckerberg was at the very end of the first row, compared with positions closer to Xir for Cook and Jack Ma, founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba (NYSE: BABA).

“Thriving” China Business

Now Facebook has popped into the China headlines once more with Sandberg’s latest remarks that came in a speech at an advertising event this week in New York. (English article) Sandberg is officially Facebook’s chief operating officer, but is widely considered as Zuckerberg’s chief lieutenant and participates in all of the company’s major strategic planning. Her mention of China was relatively brief, with Sandberg only quoted as saying that Facebook’s business in the country is “thriving”.

Facebook, Twitter (NYSE: TWTR) and YouTube  have all been blocked in China since 2009, though no reason was ever given for Beijing’s move. But most people believe China’s leaders don’t want local citizens to use SNS sites based outside of the country, since such sites aren’t subject to the country’s strict self-censorship rules. Despite that fact, Zuckerberg has traveled to China numerous times, and establishment of a local SNS service has reportedly been high on his agenda.

Last year Facebook was in the headlines when reports emerged that it was setting up a Beijing office to sell its advertising services to Chinese clients. (previous post) That move appears to have gone ahead, and is most likely the main driver of the company’s “thriving” China business referred to in Sandberg’s remarks.

As to what’s next for Facebook, Zuckerberg’s Seattle meeting and now Sandberg’s remarks do show that the company continues to press ahead with its China plans. I have to commend both Zuckerberg and Sandberg for their ability to stay focused on China when there are clearly many other issues confronting them. This latest invitation to the Xi Jinping gathering is certainly a positive sign, and I still do expect that Facebook will ultimately be rewarded by being allowed into China through a joint venture, possibly as soon as next year.

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