Tuesday 27 September 2016

Facebook founder's smiles fail to breach firewall

Peter Popham

Published 21/03/2016 | 02:30

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has opened a new front in his long-running campaign to win over the Chinese ruling class, holding a one-on-one meeting in Beijing with the man chiefly responsible for ensuring the doctrinal purity of internet services and other media that are accessible inside the country.

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Liu Yunshan, a senior member of the Politburo, is responsible for imposing the party line on the Chinese masses and for 10 years, until 2012, was head of the government's central propaganda department.

Mr Liu told Mr Zuckerberg that he hoped Facebook "would work with Chinese internet enterprises to enhance exchanges and share experience, so as to make the outcome of the internet development better benefit the people of all countries".

But despite the smiles, there is no sign that Beijing intends to open a gap in its Great Firewall to let Mr Zuckerberg in. On the contrary, China's state censors recently made their control of digital and social media as rigid as that of printed publications.

China has long reserved the right to bar access to foreign internet services, warning that they would pose a risk to security. If anything, their resistance to such intrusion has grown stronger in recent months. But Mr Zuckerberg shows no sign of giving up.

Married to Priscilla Chan, a Chinese-American, he has been studying Mandarin for years and misses no opportunity to demonstrate his limited speaking ability. He has also had one-on-one meetings with President Xi Jinping and Lu Wei, the head of China's internet regulator.

Last September, he had a brief encounter - it lasted less than a minute - with President Xi in which he addressed China's supreme leader in Chinese.

"It was an honour to meet President Xi," he wrote on his Facebook timeline.

But Mr Zuckerberg's charm offensive cuts no ice with some Chinese dissidents. After his meeting with Lu Wei, a prominent critic of the Chinese authorities called Hu Jia accused him of "brown-nosing" a government which denied its citizens the right to freedom of expression.

China has 668 million internet users, but access to Facebook has been barred since 2009. During a recent, much-mocked jog through smoggy Beijing, Zuckerberg was only able to post comments on his Facebook page thanks to a virtual private network, which is illegal in China. It appears that Mr Liu did not bring up this infraction during their meeting.

Irish Independent

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