Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg leans into China

SAN FRANCISCO -- Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg met with the government agency that oversees control of the Internet in China, but analysts say don’t expect a detente in the longstanding blockade of the giant social network.

Sandberg met with Cai Mingzhao, head of China’s State Council Information Office, on Wednesday, according to a post that includes a photograph of Sandberg and Cai standing next to each other in front of a Chinese flag.

A statement on the agency’s website said Sandberg met with the Chinese official to discuss the “important role” Facebook plays in helping Chinese companies expand abroad. The post also said Sandberg and Cai discussed other forms of cooperation but did not specify what those were.


In a statement, Facebook said Sandberg was in China to promote her national bestseller “Lean In.”

“As is typical when Sheryl is traveling internationally, she met with national government officials to discuss how Facebook is being used by local companies to market themselves to the world, to build businesses and to create jobs -- China is no exception,” the company said.

Access to the giant social network has been permanently blocked in China since 2009. Facebook said in its prospectus that “substantial legal and regulatory complexities” barred its entry into China. Cai’s agency is the one in charge of Internet censorship.

If Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg wants to realize his mission of connecting all 7 billion people on the planet, he cannot afford to skip over the world’s most populous nation, home to 1.3 billion people.

Video: Here’s how Apple’s iPhone 5S, iPhone 5C work

Analysts say the meeting reflected the growing importance of the Chinese economy and Chinese online advertising dollars, not any movement toward officially opening up Facebook to China’s vast online population.

“I would be very surprised if it means that the position on Facebook has changed,” said Bill Bishop, an independent technology industry consultant in Beijing, told Bloomberg News. “The reality is that to comply with Chinese laws and regulations, they would have to have limited or no contact with the rest of Facebook so what’s the competitive advantage? I think they’re kind of stuck.”

Sandberg, in an appearance promoting “Lean In,” praised Chinese leadership while at the same time calling for “change.”

“I believe that China can lead. It is not just the sheer size of the country or your population. It’s not just your unbelievable economic growth that is the envy of the world,” she said. “It’s that this society has very deep, deep roots. Parents invest in children. This is a country that understands that change needs to happen to make things better for the next generation.”

Sandberg did not mention Facebook or Chinese government censorship of the Internet.


Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg has a talent for making friends

Sheryl Sandberg’s backpedals, won’t hire unpaid intern

With privacy battle brewing, Facebook won’t update policy right away