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Tech - Game

Facebook Taps Former Chinese Official to Woo Beijing on Access

Facebook has hired a veteran executive and former Chinese official for a new position leading its government relations here, in another sign it is escalating efforts to regain access to China.

By

Alyssa Abkowitz

BEIJING— Facebook Inc. has hired a veteran executive and former Chinese official for a new position leading its government relations here, in another sign it is escalating efforts to regain access to China.

William Shuai comes to Facebook from LinkedIn Corp.’s China operation, where he also managed government relations. Unlike most other U.S. social-networking companies, LinkedIn agreed to submit to government censorship to gain access to the market.

Facebook has been blocked in China since 2009, reflecting the government’s concern over the ability of large social networks to stir unrest. But Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg believes China is key to the company’s growth, and has been working for several years to stage a return.

“We know Facebook won’t take no for an answer,” said Duncan Clark, founder of tech consultancy BDA China in Beijing. “So they keep asking themselves different questions about how they might come to China.”

In an email response to The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Shuai said he was “still learning” about his new company and declined to comment.

Mr. Shuai will be working closely with Wang-Li Moser, Facebook’s chief representative of China, who was hired in 2014 to help the company build face-to-face relations with government officials and has accompanied Mr. Zuckerberg to high-level meetings with Chinese leaders.

Related

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  • China Tells Facebook to ‘Come Learn From Us’ on Censoring Content (May 11, 2017)
  • Facebook Is Trying Everything to Re-Enter China—and It’s Not Working (Jan. 30, 2017)
  • LinkedIn Considers Changes After China Censorship Revealed (Sep 3, 2014)

Like Ms. Moser, who spent more than a decade at Intel Corp. in China before joining Facebook, Mr. Shuai has years of experience connecting corporate and government leaders.

At LinkedIn China, where he worked for more than three years, Mr. Shuai was responsible for managing local government relations. A person familiar with his work said Mr. Shuai can share credit for the operation’s sevenfold growth since 2014 to a member base of more than 30 million.

Before LinkedIn, Mr. Shuai managed government relations at Chinese internet search giant Baidu Inc. The company is now leading an artificial intelligence laboratory set up by the Chinese government.

Before joining Baidu, Mr. Shuai worked as an officer with China’s National Development and Reform Commission, a Chinese government agency with broad economic powers. In that role, Mr. Shuai was “in charge of the approval procedures of many national e-government projects and information security projects,” according to his LinkedIn profile.

Mr. Zuckerberg has said he considers China crucial to Facebook’s future. “Obviously you can’t have a mission of wanting to connect everyone in the world and leave out the biggest country,” he told analysts in 2015. “Over the long term, that is a situation we will need to figure out a way forward on.”

While Facebook’s namesake business is blocked in China, it has other ventures here.

Facebook opened an office in Shanghai in 2015 for its Oculus virtual reality unit that makes the Rift headsets. Facebook’s job site currently has openings for four positions in the city, including a manager and engineer for Oculus.

In March, Oculus put $5 million in registered capital into the unit, almost doubling its registered capital to $11.3 million, records show.

Oculus has been thought of as one way Facebook may try to get into China, because it is a noncontroversial product focusing on a technology that is increasingly becoming more popular in China, tech consultants say.

In May, Facebook launched a photo-sharing app called Colorful Balloons in China under the name of a different company. The app was developed by Young LLC but doesn’t advertise its affiliation with Facebook.

—Xiao Xiao in Beijing and Liza Lin in Shanghai contributed to this article.

Write to Alyssa Abkowitz at alyssa.abkowitz@wsj.com

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