Facebook welcomes Chinese regulator to US, even as site remains blocked

Lu Wei, a top Chinese Internet official, met with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook is still blocked in China, but its CEO Mark Zuckerberg was happy to welcome a top Chinese Internet regulator to the company's offices, where he again put his Mandarin language skills to use.

Lu Wei, the head of China's Cyberspace Administration, was in the U.S. where he recently visited Facebook's campus, a government-run news site said on Monday.

Zuckerberg spoke with Lu in Mandarin Chinese, putting to work the same language skills that he showed off back in October in a recorded Q&A.

During the visit, Lu also found a book written by Chinese President Xi Jinping called "The Governance of China" on Zuckerberg's office desk. "I've bought this book for my co-workers," Zuckerberg reportedly said. "I want them to understand socialism with Chinese characteristics."

Facebook didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday, but Zuckerberg has previously said he'd like to bring Facebook to the Chinese masses. Since the site's blocking in 2009, however, the company has instead focused on attracting Chinese merchants to advertise on the social networking site.

The country has never explicitly said why Facebook is blocked, but China routinely censors sites with the potential to spread anti-government content.

Lu has been leading the country's efforts to regulate its Internet, at a time when the government's online censorship has only grown more pervasive. Facebook has long been among the U.S. websites blocked, but in September the country also began cutting access to the Instagram app, also owned by Facebook.

In spite of the blocking, China has signaled that Facebook is welcome to enter the market, as long as it follows the government regulations, which include obeying the country's strict censorship policies.

Back in October, Lu even clarified his stance on Facebook, stating that local media reports had misquoted him when he allegedly said that China would forbid the website's entry into the market.

"The media claimed that I said 'it would be absolutely impossible.' Today, I can tell you that this news is fake," he said.

Lu was in Washington D.C. last week to attend an Internet industry forum on ties between the U.S. and China. During a speech, he mentioned that the two countries should find common ground to promote cooperation, despite policy differences, according to China's state-run media.

Among those differences is China's insistence on respecting a country's own "Internet sovereignty", or the way a government desires to regulate the Internet within its own borders.

Given the country's strict censorship, top U.S. websites including Google and Twitter have refrained from making a big push into the market. But in February, social networking site LinkedIn decided to take the plunge, with a local site that has been following the government's censorship policies.

By May 23, LinkedIn's China site had 5 million members, up from about 4 million a month earlier. China has over 600 million Internet users, and is already the biggest market for PCs and smartphones.

Along with Facebook's Zuckerberg, Lu also met Apple CEO Tim Cook and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos during his visit to the U.S.

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