In 2009, sparked by riots in Xinjiang, Facebook was officially banned from the country of China. Since then, the social media giant has tried many times, in a variety of ways, to make their way back into the country. One strategy involved a “charm campaign,” as described by Time. Facebook also has worked on tech that would help the platform conform to China’s censorship policies.
However, without much past success (as both Facebook and Instagram are still blocked), Facebook is employing a new strategy. The company has opened up a subsidiary – a startup incubator – in Hangzhou. Lianshu Science & Technology, as the subsidiary is called, has $30 million of capital and will advise small businesses and make minor investments. However subtle of a move this is for Facebook, it seems they still want their name to be known, as Lianshu literally translates to “face” and “book.” Facebook explained to The Washington Post that the ultimate goal is to set up an innovation hub in Zhejiang, of which Hangzhou is the capital.
Facebook has been trying for years to set up an office in China’s mainland. While the company’s VR off-shoot, Oculus Rift, does have an office in Shanghai, Facebook itself has been unsuccessful. Despite exploring office spaces in Shanghai and even obtaining a permit for a Beijing office in 2015, none of their plans have come to fruition.
While the censorship issue plays an obvious role in Facebook’s lack of presence in China, it may also be due to the country’s favor for their own social networks such as WeChat and Sina Weibo. Facebook did quietly start a photo-sharing app in China last year called Colorful Balloons, but didn’t meet much success. It may still be awhile before Facebook gains popularity, let alone legality, in China. Until then, they will likely continue trying different strategies to stay somewhat relevant in the region.