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Facebook opens a subsidiary in China, a breakthrough for the banned social media platform

Facebook opens a subsidiary in China, a breakthrough for the banned social media platform


In Hangzhou, the headquarters of Alibaba

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Image: Mark Zuckerberg

After years of being banned, Facebook will now be allowed in China — sort of. The company has obtained a license to open an office in China, which is a major breakthrough considering the social media network is still censored for most residents.

The office will be a $30 million subsidiary called Facebook Technology (Hangzhou), located in the city Hangzhou, which is also the headquarters of Alibaba. Facebook will be running a startup incubator that will make small investments and give advice to local businesses, an anonymous source told Reuters.

The subsidiary is listed as wholly owned by Facebook Hong Kong Limited, according to Reuters, which read the business filing that has since been removed. Facebook does have a sales office in Hong Kong, which isn’t subject to the rules and censorship of the mainland.

Last week in an interview with Recode, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg was coy on the subject of China. When asked where Facebook was on China, he responded, “I mean, we’re blocked.” But he also indicated that the company was definitely still interested in pursuing business there. “I think it’s hard to have a mission of wanting to bring the whole world closer together and leave out the biggest country.”

This is the first time Facebook has gotten its name into China after getting blocked in 2009

In a statement, the company tells The Verge, “We are interested in setting up an innovation hub in Zhejiang to support Chinese developers, innovators and start-ups.” It noted that it had similar incubators in France, Brazil, India, and South Korea.

Still, China is the only country on the list of Facebook incubators that actively censors the social media site and offers its netizens tempting alternatives like WeChat, QQ, and more. This is the first time that Facebook has gotten its own name into the country after Beijing blocked the platform in 2009 following its use by Xinjiang independence activists in the Urumqi riots.

That doesn’t mean Zuckerberg and Facebook have stopped trying. Facebook previously tried to open an office in Beijing in 2015 and got as far as obtaining a permit but ultimately was unsuccessful. Zuckerberg took a famous smog-filled jog through Tiananmen Square in 2016, which many have interpreted as a symbolic gesture of him cozying up to Beijing.

Last year, Facebook quietly launched an app called Colorful Balloons that let users share photos with friends, releasing the app under a company called Youge Internet Technology. Curiously, Youge has connections to the new Facebook subsidiary. And Oculus, Facebook’s VR company, has an office in nearby Shanghai, only a two-hour drive from Hangzhou.

Update July 24th 2PM ET: This article has been updated with a statement from Facebook.