t appears that Facebook still needs to devote more time and energy on attempting to “understand” China after the company’s “breakthrough” Chinese subsidiary vanished in record time.
On Tuesday, international media outlets began to report that Facebok had finally managed to get its toe in the door in China. According to filing on a government database, the Silicon Valley company had managed to gain approval for registering a subsidiary in the city of Hangzhou, home to Alibaba.
The filing said that the subsidiary was formally approved last Wednesday, backed by a $30 million investment. Facebook’s Hong Kong branch was listed as the sole shareholder. Later, a company spokesperson explained that Facebook was creating an “innovation hub” in Hangzhou to support local developers, innovators, and start-ups in a country where its social media network had been blocked behind the Great Firewall for the past decade.
However, on Wednesday, journalists noticed that the corporate filing for Facebook’s Chinese subsidiary had mysteriously disappeared from the government database where it had appeared only hours before.
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
By Wednesday night, Paul Mozur of the New York Times had managed to get to the bottom of what had happened, reporting that an anonymous source had told him that local officials in Zhejiang province had struck a deal with Facebook without the knowledge of the Cyberspace Administration of China, the country’s internet regulator. Once the CAC did find out, they were “quite angry” and promptly scuttled the agreement.
So, after a decade spent learning, scheming, and trying to figure out how to re-enter China, Facebook apparently didn’t think to check with Beijing before registering its subsidiary and allocating $30 million for the project. Wow.
Of course, even if Facebook did manage to gets its innovation incubator set up, it still wouldn’t have been really 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.
In an interview last week with Recode, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed his serious doubts about his company’s chances of managing to re-enter China.
“I mean, we’re a long time away from doing anything,” Zuckerberg said. “At some point, I think that we need to figure it out, but we need to figure out a solution that is in line with our principles and what we wanna do, and in line with the laws there, or else it’s not gonna happen. Right now, there isn’t an intersection.”
Still, you can’t fault the guy for not putting in the effort in what may be a hopeless cause. In recent years, Zuckerberg haslearned to speak Mandarin,taken morning jogs around Tiananmen Square, and evenasked Xi Jinping for baby name suggestions.