[UPDATE: 23:30]Paul Mozur of the New York Times reports that the permit for Facebook’s subsidiary company in China has indeed been withdrawn after China’s internet regulator found out about the deal the company had struck with the Zhejiang provincial government.
acebook has seen its recent registering of a subsidiary in China censored, in what would appear to be a bad sign for the Silicon Valley company’s future aspirations in the country.
According to a filing on China’s National Enterprise Credit Information Publicity System, Facebook’s registration of a subsidiary in the city of Hangzhou, home to Alibaba, was approved by Chinese government regulators last Wednesday. The subsidiary is backed by a $30 million investment. Facebook’s Hong Kong branch is listed as the sole shareholder.
A Facebook spokesperson later explained that the company planned to use the office to create an “innovation hub” in order to support local developers, innovators, and start-ups in a country where its social media network has been blocked behind the Great Firewall for the past decade.
However, after news of Facebook finally getting its toe in the door in China was reported by media outlets across the globe, the New York Times discovered that the company’s filing had mysteriously disappeared while some mentions of Facebook’s subsidiary had been censored on Chinese social media.
“I’ve seen a lot of things get censored in China, but I’ve never seen a corporate filing in an official database disappear in front of my eyes,” tweeted NYT reporter Paul Mozur who speculated that it appeared as if local officials in Hangzhou had gotten ahead of authorities in Beijing.
I’ve seen a lot of things get censored in China, but I’ve never seen a corporate filing in an official database disappear in front of my eyes. The obvious reading is Hangzhou local government got ahead of itself, and someone higher up nixed Facebook’s approval. Maybe CAC?
— Paul Mozur (@paulmozur) July 24, 2018
Similarly, Emily Rauhala of the Washington Postwrites of her astonishment at the filing’s sudden disappearance and wonders if this portends a quick end for Facebook’s “innovation hub.”
Very interested to see if Facebook’s plan for a startup incubator in Hangzhou goes ahead, or gets scrapped. Saw the filing live with my own eyes last night, then when I went to copy the link an hour later: gone. Censorship on censorship on censorship.
— Emily Rauhala (@emilyrauhala) July 25, 2018
Of course, even if Facebook does manage to get its subsidiary, it’s still barely any closer to getting its social media network re-launched in the Middle Kingdom. That would require not only managing to sway Chinese higher-ups, but also the company promising to censor content that the government finds objectionable and agreeing to store user data inside China.
Despite these obstacles, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has given winning over China’s leadership his best shot: learning to speak Mandarin, taking morning jogs around Tiananmen Square, and even asking Xi Jinping for baby name suggestions.
Last year, Facebook even managed to launch a Chinese photo-sharing app that was based on its own Moments app, but with none of its own branding attached. Pretty much no one ended up downloading the app, called Colorful Balloons, which was cast by the company as a way of better understanding the Chinese market.
Despite being blocked from that Chinese market, nearly 10 percent of Facebook’s global revenue actually comes from China, making the country Facebook’s second-largest spender on ads, trailing behind only the US. Earlier this year, Facebook admitted to giving four Chinese firms, including Huawei, access to user data.