Mark Zuckerberg's meeting with the CEO of China's largest search engine prompts speculation about Facebook's prospects in the country.
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While on vacation in China, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg -- whose website is blocked in this nation of more than 1.3 billion people -- met with Robin Li, CEO of Baidu, the country's most-used Internet search engine.
Baidu declined to disclose what the two executives discussed as Zuckerberg toured Baidu's offices, ate lunch in the company's private dining room, and attended meetings with Li into the afternoon, Kaiser Kuo, a spokesman for Baidu, told Bloomberg. Zuckerberg is on vacation and has a "well-established" interest in China, Kuo said.
"It makes sense -- he is interested in the Chinese Internet, he's made that very plain. Obviously this is one of the big dark spots for Facebook because it is blocked here in China," said Kuo, according to the Agence France-Presse (AFP). "He has had a long-standing interest in China. I'm sure he wants to get the advice of someone who knows the Internet landscape well here."
Censorship and closed-door meetings did not stop speculation erupting around cyberspace.
"Will Facebook enter the 400 million users market with the partnership with Baidu? No evidence to prove that, but it makes some sense, at least Baidu is clearly the giant in China but it does not really have its own social network in the local market," said Gang Lu, co-founder of the OpenWeb.Asia Workgroup, in a Mobinode blog.
Baidu's Kuo turned to Twitter in an attempt to stop some rumors before they began.
"Rumors that Baidu is about to acquire Facebook are greatly exaggerated," he tweeted. "C'mon people. Robin and Mark have known each other for a while. Mark's interest in China is well known. Keep the speculation in check."
In October, Zuckerberg mentioned this interest in China, based in part on the nation's emerging opportunity and huge population. In preparation for this trip with long-time Chinese American girlfriend Priscilla Chan, Zuckerberg learned Mandarin, he told a Stanford University audience, according to AFP.
"It's kind of a personal challenge this year, I'm taking an hour a day and I'm learning Chinese. I'm trying to understand the language, the culture, the mindset -- it's just such an important part of the world," he said. "How can you connect the whole world if you leave out a billion-six people?"
While Facebook has become a daily part of many Americans' lives, it is relatively unknown to many on the Chinese mainland due to government censorship. Those online posters aware of Zuckerberg and his company have prepared for his visit using humor, according to the Los Angeles Times.
"We warmly welcome the founder of '404 NOT Found' and 'Mr. The Search Result Cannot be Displayed' to visit China!" one post said, referring to the error messages Internet users often see when they visit banned sites in China.