China warms to possibility of a muzzled Facebook

china-flag-thumbSince 2009, Chinese citizens have been without access to various foreign web sites, Facebook included. But the incredibly protective country could be loosening its clutches, as Bloomberg reports that China Mobile Ltd. Chariman Wang Jianzhou has discussed “the possibility of cooperation” with Facebook.

Wang recently spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and gave no further details on any opening in the Chinese firewall. Last month, the Chinese executive met with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg when he visited the country. Zuckerberg’s trip to China was widely reported, although by some accounts he was simply brushing up on his Mandarin (oh, and he also visited the headquarters of the country’s largest search engine). But Zuckerberg has expressed sincere interest in breaking through China’s walled-off Web, asking “how can you connect the whole world if you leave out 1.6 billion people?”

Well, maybe he can now – if he’s alright with some heavy-handed censorship from the Chinese government. Similar to the censorship Google faced (to varying success), Facebook is likely to be introduced only if it can accept the country’s extreme authority. But maybe it’s worth it: It was recently reported that China has 457 million Internet users and shows no signs of slowing down, and that’s difficult for a globally dominant company like Facebook to ignore.

China blocked Facebook and a host of other websites in 2009 following riots in the Xinjiang region. Rumblings of the situation becoming “the next Tiananmen” only encouraged the Chinese government to rid itself of outside influence. Within days, Facebook users in the country were met with a network error when trying to login. Li Zhi, the Communist Party’s Urumqi police chief reported at the time that the bans were meant to “quench the riots quickly and prevent violence from spreading to other places.”

But Facebook treading beyond China’s great firewall doesn’t necessarily signal the country is relaxing its reigns – it might just mean that Facebook is more willing to compromise than others.

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