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China would open its arms to a Facebook and Google return, if they obey the country's lawsREUTERS

After Facebook was banned in 2009 and Google decided to pull its search engine out of China in 2010, two of the world's biggest companies have been looking on as the largest internet market on the planet continues to grow.

But things may be about to change after the Chinese government revealed it would welcome them both back with open arms, on the one condition: they play by China's rules.

Ahead of the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, China – an annual event where the country's government agencies meet to discuss internet policies – the American companies were given the first wink of a return in years according to a report by qz.com.

When asked whether they would permit a return, Ren Xianliang, deputy director of the Cyberspace Administration of China replied: "China's internet development has always maintained a policy of openness. As for foreign internet companies, as long as they respect China's laws, don't harm the interests of the country, and don't harm the interests of consumers, we welcome them to enter China, where they can together share the benefits of China's developing internet."

The stance from China doesn't seem to have changed, however, except to break the silent treatment and say it is open for the twosome to return and operate their services in the country rather than indefinite banishment. Whether either tech giant would actually do this is another question. The "laws" that were mentioned are still the same laws of censorship that forced Google to withdraw its search engine after the Chinese government wanted to filter certain results. For life without Google (if you could imagine such a thing) those in China use Baidu – a Chinese internet company that fully complies with its country's content laws. Baidu handles over 80% of the country's web traffic for searches as well as offering services akin to Wikipedia, Netflix, Google Maps and Groupon.

Then there's Facebook. The social media behemoth would no doubt be constantly policed by Chinese authorities to ensure posts were not speaking out against the Communist Party or portraying the country in a negative light. Despite claiming the "internet is open", a return for either of these companies would most certainly be an augmented version of both services.

Yet, the lure of more than double the amount of internet users than in the US may be too much to refuse. Both Facebook and Google have arms of its businesses operating in China and Mark Zuckerberg went on a China tour earlier in 2016 to court officials into a bid to crack into that pool of 668 million internet users. Facebook-owned Oculus is making a huge push with its virtual reality products, which could see a huge uptake in China and Google has its latest Pixel smartphones that it hope will be vying for a slice of China's mobile market. Maybe playing by the rules might not be too hard to swallow after all.