China's Great Firewall is still blocking the services of Facebook, Google and Twitter, but that hasn't stopped top brass from all three Silicon Valley firms from visiting Beijing in a span of less than 10 days, perhaps hoping to boost their business prospects on the mainland.
Following in the footsteps of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg – who gave a much-discussed speech in Chinese late last month at Tsinghua University – senior executives from Google and Twitter made appearances in Beijing on Monday, attending a technology conference hosted by San Francisco-based TechCrunch.
"In fact, we do hope to provide service in China, and we continue to communicate with the Chinese government. This is also why I'm here this week," said Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet/Google.
When Google decided to abandon the Chinese search market because of censorship and hacking concerns and move its servers to Hong Kong in 2010.
Google recently revealed its first direct investment into a Chinese start-up since its 2010 exit, putting an undisclosed amount into Mobvoi, an Android voice search software. And it has partnered with Chinese hardware maker Huawei on a new phone.
Helping Chinese companies to "go out," echoing the Chinese government's campaign of promoting Chinese businesses globally, has been the business strategy for Facebook and Twitter as well. Numerous Chinese firms, including smartphone makers, airlines, the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily and the official New China News Agency, have set up official accounts on both Facebook and Twitter to reach out to audiences abroad.
"One of our clients is the New China News Agency," said Alan Lan, head of online sales, greater China, at Twitter, during a panel meeting at Nov. 2. "During the National Day holiday in October, we helped them with a lot of their global communications." So far, though, that seems to have earned Twitter little goodwill.
Facebook has also tried a kill-with-kindness approach. When Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the U.S. in September, Facebook set up a special page dedicated to document Xi's every move stateside.
Apple's massive sales growth in China has underscored how valuable the Chinese market can be to U.S. tech firms. Apple posted an 84% increase in Greater China sales in the last fiscal year, generating $23 billion in operating income in the region, the company said last week. And Apple said that 96% of Greater China sales are derived from the mainland alone.
Twitter has recently struggled to demonstrate user growth and is unable to tap the Chinese market. CEO Jack Dorsey announced last month that the company planned to lay off approximately 8% of its work force, or more than 330 employees. Experts say lack of access to the Chinese market is costing California tech firms billions a year.