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Zuckerberg meets with China's propaganda chief

The charm offensive continues

Pool/Getty Images

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with China's propaganda czar over the weekend, continuing his efforts to build goodwill in a country where Facebook and other social media are officially banned. According to China's Xinhua news agency, Zuckerberg met with senior Communist Party member Liu Yunshan on Saturday in Beijing, where the Facebook founder was due to attend an economic forum. According to state-run Xinhua, Liu said he hopes that Facebook will share its experience to spur the growth of other Chinese internet companies, though he also noted the importance of developing the sector "with Chinese characteristics."

The meeting with Liu may mark a shift in relations between Facebook and Chinese regulators. Facebook, Twitter, and other Western social media have long been blocked by the so-called Great Firewall in China, and Zuckerberg has been very public about his efforts to curry favor with the government. In 2014, he gave a 20-minute speech in Mandarin to students at a Beijing university, and reportedly urged Facebook employees to read a book called The Governance of China, written by President Xi Jinping.

Last week, the CEO caused a stir on Chinese social media after posting a photo of himself running in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on a day when smog levels soared. Some criticized Zuckerberg for not mentioning the 1989 crackdown on demonstrators at Tiananmen Square or the dangerous air pollution in his post.

It's great to be back in Beijing! I kicked off my visit with a run through Tiananmen Square, past the Forbidden City and...

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday, March 17, 2016

As The New York Times reports, it's rare for American business executives to meet with Liu, and to do it in such public fashion. But it's unclear whether the tactic will soften Beijing's stance; as The Times notes, the meeting also allows China to show that executives from US tech firms are willing to praise its leadership and governance. (Zuckerberg "spoke highly" of Chinese web companies during the meeting, according to Xinhua, and vowed to work with Chinese counterparts "to create a better world in cyberspace.") Late last year, Lu Wei, China's internet czar, said the government had no plans to lift restrictions on Facebook or other Western social media.

Earlier this year, China issued new rules that tightened restrictions on foreign online publishers. The regulations, which went into effect this month, specify that online publishers must only disseminate content to "promote core socialist values" and not harm national interests. Experts have said that the broadly-written laws could make it even tougher for media outlets and other foreign companies to enter the market.