Dick Costolo to meet with Chinese officials in Shanghai

Twitter has been banned in China since 2009, could this be the beginning of a new relationship?

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
March 17, 2014
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Twitter, like many American Internet companies, has a pretty complicated relationship with China. While it seems to want to do business there, the service not been officially allowed in since 2009. Could we possibly be seeing a breakthrough at some point in the near future, though?

Perhaps, though, at the very least, it could the first step in the defrosting of relations. 

CEO Dick Costolo is currently touring Shanghai, making his first ever trip to the country, and while he is there he is going to be taking meetings with some very important people, according to a report from Reuters on Monday.

Among his stops will be with Shanghai government officials, including representatives of the Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone.  The Zone was established last year in order to test out certain measures, including loosening rules governing currency conversion and foreign direct investment.

Costolo will also be meeting with  university administrators and he will be participating in a round-table discussion with students at Fudan University in Shanghai, which is also the official sponsor of his visa.

As for any potential deal with China, which would allow Twitter to operate in the country, that seems to be off the table at the moment.

Costolo is not expected to ask Chinese authorities to lift the Twitter ban, and, in a statement to Reuters, Twitter downplayed the significance of Costolo meeting with Chinese officials.

"Dick is visiting China because he wants to learn more about Chinese culture and the country's thriving technology sector," a Twitter spokesman said.

Twitter has also rejected the possibility of opening an office anytime soon in China at the moment, because it would subject the company to Chinese law, but that is not to say that a deal could not be reached at some point down the road.

Since it would just take a lot of negotation to broker such a deal, i is easier to see this as the first step in a much longer road.

Benefits and drawbacks

It's easy to see why companies like Twitter, Facebook Google, and LinkedIn. which was recently able to launch its service in the country, all seem to have their eyes set on China: namely, its 618 million Internet users, 500 million of which are on mobile. 

Making peace with China does have its drawbacks, though. After LinkedIn made its China announcement, the company also came under fire after it admitted that it was only able to operate there because it complied with Chinese censorship laws.

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner defended the decision in a blog post written shortly after.

"As a condition for operating in the country, the government of China imposes censorship requirements on Internet platforms. LinkedIn strongly supports freedom of expression and fundamentally disagrees with government censorship," Weiner said. 

"At the same time, we also believe that LinkedIn’s absence in China would deny Chinese professionals a means to connect with others on our global platform, thereby limiting the ability of individual Chinese citizens to pursue and realize the economic opportunities, dreams and rights most important to them."

Half a billion untapped mobile users is awfully inticing, but companies will have to decide for themselves if they are willing to put up with censorship, and a potential backlash back home, to get them.

Twitter was not available for any additional comment.

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