Mark Zuckerberg was in Beijing recently meeting China's propaganda chief Liu Yunshan as part of his charm offensive to gain access to the heavily censored Chinese cyberspace. It was a rare meeting between two powerful figures in their own showground – one the founder of Facebook, which is used by 1.59 billion people; while the other has the potentials to decide whether or not China's 700 million internet users can access the social media network.
What transpired during the weekend meeting remains to be seen. Yet, it is crystal clear that Zuckerberg –who was called "a son-in-law of China" by a state media network – intends to leave no stone unturned to penetrate China's "Great Firewall". If there is anyone in China, who Zuckerberg needs to convince it is Liu. The latter was chief of the Central Propaganda Department between 2002 and 2012. He also sits on the communist party's leadership panel, the politburo standing committee.
Shortly after landing in the country, Zuckerberg wrote: "It's great to be back in Beijing!" In what seemed a classic attempt to butter-up Chinese authorities. He quickly followed it up with: "I kicked off my visit with a run through Tiananmen Square, past the Forbidden City and over to the Temple of Heaven."
China, the single largest social media market on the planet, remains out of reach for Facebook, despite the relations between the social media giant and the Chinese government warming up of late. Officially, the Facebook founder was in China to attend an economic forum, a government-sponsored conference to bring top business executives.
Zuckerberg also held a highly publicised conversation with the country's best-known entrepreneur and founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma. China's official news agency Xinhua said that Liu hailed Facebook's technology and management methods during their talks, and added that Liu hoped Zuckerberg can share his experience with up and coming Chinese firms to help "internet development better benefit the people of all countries".
Zuckerberg's visit to China, which continues to view Facebook as a potential national security threat, has also come at a time when Beijing is increasingly cracking down on the internet –put in the words of Chinese military newspaper as the most important front of the ideological battle against "Western anti-China forces".
Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are banned in China as part of political regulations. Yet, Zuckerberg has achieved an unrivalled celebrity status in the country, thanks to wife Priscilla Chan, who is of Chinese origin. His latest trip has also captivated online China and attracted generous media coverage taking him a step closer towards overcoming the Chinese censors.