[BEIJING] Lu Wei, China's top Internet regulator, may not welcome Facebook to his house, but he's certainly welcome at Facebook.
Mr Lu, the minister of China's Cyberspace Administration, recently toured the campuses of US tech giants Facebook Inc , Apple Inc and Amazon Inc, according to a report and pictures posted on a Chinese government website on Monday.
In friendly exchanges that belied Facebook's status in China, where it has been blocked since 2009, Mr Lu and Facebook Inc founder Mark Zuckerberg greeted each other in Mandarin and with broad smiles, according to the report, which did not say when, or why, the visit took place.
When Mr Lu noticed a copy of Chinese president Xi Jinping's book, "The Governance of China," in a pile on Zuckerberg's desk, Zuckerberg reportedly told him: "I also bought this book for my coworkers; I wanted them to learn about socialism with Chinese characteristics." Mr Lu was also pictured meeting with Apple chief executive Tim Cook and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on his trip.
China remains one of the last great obstacles to Zuckerberg's longstanding vision of connecting the world's entire population, and he has made no secret of his desire to enter a market with more than 600 million Internet users.
Mr Lu, a former Beijing propaganda chief who took up his current central government role in 2013, has repeatedly defended China's Internet censorship as critical to preserving domestic stability. "China has always been very hospitable, but we can choose who enters our house," he told reporters in October. "We could not allow any companies to enter China and make money while hurting the country." He added: "I didn't say Facebook could not enter China, but nor did I say that it could." Prone to colorful and sometimes conflicting statements, Lu played host last month to the World Internet Conference, an event meant to show off the growing influence of China's tech industry but also lay out policymakers' vision for Internet governance: open, but on the government's terms.
Cyberspace should be "free and open, with rules to follow and always following the rule of law," Mr Lu said during an opening ceremony.
Outside the conference, authorities detained a small group of students demonstrating to seek access to Facebook, attendees said.