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China denies granting license for Facebook subsidiary in Hangzhou

Photo: Reuters

Facebook has been in talks with the Hangzhou government about its plan to open a subsidiary in the Chinese city, but it has not been granted a business license yet, said a Chinese official recently.

Liu Liehong, deputy director of the Cyberspace Administration of China, made the remarks in response to a question raised by Bloomberg at a press conference held by the Information Office of the State Council, the country's cabinet.

In July, documents on the website of China's National Enterprise Credit Information Publicity System showed that the US technology company had completed business registration of a firm in Hangzhou, an eastern Chinese city which has emerged as a new destination for global research and development.

The $30 million Facebook Technology (Hangzhou) Co., Ltd would be reportedly set up as a startup incubator engaged in making minor investments and advising small businesses. The Hangzhou-based firm is 100 percent owned by Facebook Hong Kong Limited, and its corporate representative is Zhang Jingmei.

At the time, Facebook said in a statement that it is willing to help Chinese developers, innovators and startups to grow by establishing an innovation hub in Zhejiang province.

However, the filing about the business registration was later deleted from the National Enterprise Credit Information Publicity System.

Liu's remarks seem to suggest that the Chinese government is uncertain about Facebook's return to the Chinese market despite the fact that the company's CEO Mark Zuckerberg has ingratiated himself with the country's leadership.

Over the recent years, Zuckerberg has used every possible public occasion to emphasize his strong interest in the Chinese market where Facebook is blocked, keeping contact with the country's business leaders and the government's top brass. In 2016, Zuckerberg was pictured taking a jog through the Tiananmen Square in Beijing on a smoggy day in what was called a "stunt" he wanted to use to draw attention from the Chinese government and Chinese people.

Last year, Facebook reportedly launched a photo-sharing app called Colorful Balloons for the Chinese market. Zhang, who is the corporate representative of Facebook's subsidiary in Hangzhou, is the executive director of the company that owns the app - Youge Internet Technology. Facebook has not admitted that it has links with the app. Zhang has been pictured visiting Shanghai's government officials with Wang-Li Moser, then Facebook's top representative in China.

Currently, Facebook has a sales office in Hong Kong.

Earlier this year, Facebook came under attack for giving Cambridge Analytica, a company which had worked on Donald Trump's presidential campaign, access to the personal data of millions of Facebook users without their approvals.

At the press conference, Liu said, "China is willing to share with every country in the world the opportunity to develop the Chinese Internet industry. Foreign Internet companies are welcome if they abide by China's laws, regulations and culture."

Some foreign social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are inaccessible on the Chinese mainland due to Beijing's concerns that some "negative" information spread on these platforms could undermine the country's social stability.

In August, the People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, said China would welcome Google back as long as it follows Chinese laws. Google, which left the Chinese mainland market in 2010, is asking for Beijing's approval to do search business on the Chinese mainland, where search contents are strictly censored.

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