Dec. 22, 2010 at 5:11 PM ET
While Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg says he's just taking a vacation in China with his girlfriend, his itinerary goes well beyond the usual sightseeing of the typical tourist, with meetings with some of the nation's biggest high-tech execs that suggest he wants to move forward with expanding the reach of the social network to the largest population of Internet users in the world.
But, say industry watchers, Facebook is going to have to out-muscle well-established, state-supported companies if it is going to be coming so late into a market where social networking, through sites such as RenRen, has already taken hold, increasing by 68 percent in the past year. Competition, in fact, is fierce on many levels and has already proven a challenge to other companies, such as Google.
In a video report, the Wall Street Journal presents some evidence and analysis that Zuckerberg is following through on his previously stated interest in breaking into a market teeming with the most Internet users in one country: 420 million in a country of a billion people.
Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, reporter and editor with the technology blog Digits at the Wall Street Journal, said Facebook would need to find a partner in China, where Facebook would also be facing challenges with all the restrictions regarding what information its citizens can access online. Facebook used to be accessible, though spotty, then the government blocked it after July 2009 without explanation.
Certainly, Zuckerberg is at the very least building some bridges. The Aussie daily newspaper, the Herald Sun, also reported on the same meetings that others mention in the video. Zuckerberg went face-to-face with: Charles Chao, CEO of leading Chinese microblogging service and web portal Sina Corp. (which captured the visit with this photo and article); Wang Jianzhou, chairman of the state-run telecommunications carrier China Mobile Ltd.; and Robin Li, CEO of Google search engine rival Baidu.
Wall Street Journal Tech editor Marcelo Prince said the visits "sound like it's mostly a fact-finding mission" where Zuckerberg "wants to know better how the Internet is used in China and the roles of these companies."
He also wondered how Facebook, which is integrated on so many other sites, would navigate the minefield of censorship currently in place in China, where rules "are somewhat ambiguous and not evenly enforced."
This is a country that jailed a woman for a year for a retweet, so who knows what is in store for those who write the wrong status update or comment, or provide a link to a site that doesn't meet with government approval.