Is Facebook, Inc.'s Next Big Goal to Woo China?

Mark Zuckerberg. Image source: Facebook.

Facebook has 1.35 billion monthly active users. The social network's reach, while massive, is still severely limited by a certain geopolitical barrier: China's internet restrictions.The country's 1.36 billion citizens, are currentlybanned from using the social media platform. Winning over China at some point would obviously be a huge gain for Facebook, so it's no wonder that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg seems to be making appeals to the country's citizens and leaders.

Coincidence or a "business mission?"In October, Zuckerberg shocked the world when he conducted a 30-minute interview in Mandarin at Tsinghua University, a Chinese school where the Facebook CEO joined the advisory board this year.

Sure, it could be entirely a hobby that the obviously busy CEO has been spending much of his spare time learning Mandarin. After all, his wife, Priscilla Chan, is an American of Chinese descent. But I'll side with New York Times writer Emily Parker, who said on Twitter, "this is not a hobby, it's a business mission." When you have more than a billion people in one country not using Facebook when you're the CEO of a company whose mission is to connect the world, that's a data point I would imagine Zuckerberg has given some serious thought.

If Zuckerberg's learning Mandarin isn't enough to convince you he is contemplating ways to eventually win back the country, how about this? Zuckerberg has a copy of Xi Jinping: The Governance of China on his desk.

Here's an excerpt from the description of the book on Amazon:

Putting the icing on the cake, the copy was apparently spotted during a visit from Lu Wei, the State Council minister overseeing the Cyberspace Administration of China, The Wall Street Journal's Wayne Ma reported Monday, citing a website controlled by China's State Council.

Learning Mandarin, reading about Chinese government, and courting relevant decision makers seems like it could be part of a bigger strategy. With China's Internet censorship continuing to get more of a spotlight, Zuckerberg almost certainly wants to make sure he's in a reputable position to speak and, more importantly, be heard.

But what about competition in China? In Facebook's absence, other Chinese social-media platforms have gained considerable steam. Sina's Weibo, which is basically China's Twitter, has over 150 million monthly active users. And cross-platform chat app WeChat, similar to Facebook's own WhatsApp, has close to 500 million monthly active users.

Could Facebook really succeed in China with these established platforms? I think so. About 61% of the population in Hong Kong uses Zuckerberg's social network --proving the platform is already gaining traction.

While the incredible uncertainty with Chinese regulations means that Facebook investors should avoid pricing in the potential for China to finally allow the social network, the CEO's determination at least shows that the company hasn't given up on the massive market.

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Daniel Sparks has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook and Sina and owns shares of Facebook. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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