When Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, gave the keynote speech at a conference at his company’s headquarters in 2014, he wore a grey T-shirt. When he spoke to a global audience at the Newseum in 2013, he donned his favored hooded sweatshirt. But when he met General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping on Sept. 23, Zuckerberg chose instead a sharp navy suit and a tasteful red tie.
According to China Daily, a Chinese state media company, Zuckerberg said he’s long been studying the works of Xi Jinping. “He knows that what Xi Jinping said today was in line with his previous thoughts, which is that China will resolutely open up to the world,” China Daily continued. “Xi Jinping is a man of staunch character, and his speech today demonstrated the position and attitude he’s held all along. He gives confidence to the American Internet industry.”
All this was attributed to Mark Zuckerberg, though it’s unclear how much, if any, of it is indeed what Zuckerberg said.
On his own Facebook feed, Zuckerberg did remark that he was honored to meet Xi Jinping, and he has long been attempting to court the Chinese market. Learning Mandarin and making fawning comments about the wisdom of Xi Jinping’s collected works are thought to be part of this broad strategy.
Whether that is actually a good idea, however, is another question. The Chinese Communist Party is known to play hardball with foreign companies, particularly tech firms, that seek to establish a presence in China.
Often, the price of entry into the China market is handing over intellectual property that Chinese companies can then use and develop products themselves.
This pattern took place when automakers went to China, and was repeated in a range of industries. Under the Chinese regime’s proposed national security law, tech companies are also facing demands to host their networks on servers in China, and even hand over their source code due to supposed national security concerns.
Any such deal involving Facebook, however, could be a significant security risk to the United States and other countries, given how widely Facebook is used—it currently has nearly 1.5 billion users worldwide—and how much personal information moves through it every day.
Chinese hackers are believed to have penetrated the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management earlier this year, stealing over 20 million records of current and former government employees. More recent reports indicated that they also gained over 5 million sets of fingerprints. The breach of government employee data is believed to be the most extensive in history—and Epoch Times reporting revealed that China is using the information to build a database of persons of interest who could be later exploited for information they may have access to.
It is possible that a kind of Chinese Facebook could be set up, segregated and independent from the global Facebook, just like the Chinese Internet — but this could carry its own risks, because Facebook’s technology would still end up in China’s hands, making future penetration of Facebook’s network in America that much easier.
Further, if Facebook were to make those investments in its Chinese business, the company may find it more difficult to deny requests from the Chinese regime’s security apparatus for personal information of those deemed enemies of the state—i.e. political dissidents and others.