Facebook Inc.'s campaign to re-enter China has hit another setback with the departure of a veteran executive who had been leading efforts to improve relations with Chinese government leaders.
Wang-Li Moser resigned late last year, people with knowledge of the situation said Friday. Ms. Moser wanted to return to the U.S. for personal reasons, one of these people said.
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Ms. Moser couldn't be reached for comment. Her exit was first reported by the New York Times.
Analysts say the loss of Ms. Moser only adds to Facebook's challenge in re-entering China, where it has been blocked since 2009, reflecting the government's concern over the ability of large social networks to stir unrest.
Even if it could regain entry -- and most analysts say that is unlikely -- Facebook also faces a challenge in taking on WeChat, the dominant social media app, run by Tencent Holdings Ltd.
"Looking at the environment now, it will be very difficult for foreign firms in the social media space to make headway into China," said Ben Cavender, principal at China Market Research Group. "The government has firm censorship rules and they have strong local players -- there's no need for them to open the door so wide anymore."
"It's always the sword in the stone," said Duncan Clark, founder of tech consultancy BDA China, talking about the challenge of the Chinese market. "Knights keep trying to grab at it, but with the internet sector, especially, it's almost mission impossible."
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has made China a priority. Last week, in a move widely seen as a possible back door into China for the Silicon Valley company, Facebook joined with Beijing-based smartphone company Xiaomi Corp. to launch a new virtual-reality headset called Mi VR Standalone, modeled after Facebook's Oculus Go.
Ms. Moser, a U.S. citizen born in China, was hired to help build face-to-face relations with government officials. Before joining Facebook, Ms. Moser spent more than a decade at Intel Corp. in China, where former colleagues said she helped Intel build a $2.5 billion factory.
In a 2011 essay, she called arranging meetings with Chinese officials a "long, trivial and pressing" task. She had some successes at Facebook, joining Mr. Zuckerberg for a meeting with Lu Wei, then China's top internet regulator, at Facebook headquarters in late 2014.
She also accompanied Mr. Zuckerberg in March 2016 to Beijing meetings with Mr. Lu and the Communist Party's ideology chief Liu Yunshan.
William Shuai, a former government official who Ms. Moser hired away from LinkedIn Corp.'s China operations in September, has assumed her duties for now, according to one person familiar with the situation. LinkedIn is the only major U.S. social network to have a foothold in China, after it agreed to submit to government censorship to gain access to the market.
Write to Alyssa Abkowitz at email@example.com and Liza Lin at Liza.Lin@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 19, 2018 08:43 ET (13:43 GMT)