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Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg Meets With Chinese Internet Regulator

Facebook Inc.’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg met with the government agency that oversees controls on the Internet in China, where access to the company’s social networking website is blocked.

Sandberg met with Cai Mingzhao, head of China’s State Council Information Office, yesterday and discussed issues including the “important role” Facebook plays in helping Chinese companies expand overseas and cooperation, according to a statement posted to the agency’s website today. The statement didn’t say what cooperation was discussed.

Facebook has since 2009 only been accessible in China with so-called proxy services that sidestep government censorship. The company said in the prospectus for its 2012 listing that China, home to the world’s largest number of Web users, had “substantial legal and regulatory complexities” preventing its entry. China censors the web by blocking sites with pornography, gambling and content critical of the ruling Communist Party.

“I would be very surprised if it means that the position on Facebook has changed,” said Bill Bishop, an independent technology industry consultant in Beijing. “The reality is that to comply with Chinese laws and regulations, they would have to have limited or no contact with the rest of Facebook so what’s the competitive advantage? I think they’re kind of stuck.”

Sandberg declined to answer questions about Facebook’s plans for the Chinese market when speaking at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing yesterday. She is attending a conference organized by the World Economic Forum in the Chinese port city of Dalian today.

In addition to the SCIO, Cai is also director of the International Communication Office of the Communist Party’s Central Committee as well as deputy head of the Communist Party’s Publicity Department, formerly called the propaganda department.

The SCIO functions as the nation’s Internet regulator through the State Internet Information Office. The director of the Internet office, Lu Wei, is also a deputy head of the SCIO.

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