Friday 16 January 2015

Weekly Wrap Up: The Great Firewall of China

Will economic ambitions force Beijing to liberalise internet policy?

In the build-up to the unveiling of China’s answer to Apple, Xiaomi’s new smartphone this week, a source leaked to Reuters that they had previously been approached by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about a possible investment, but that the deal fell through.

The meeting between Zuckerberg and Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun came ahead of the smartphone maker’s $1.1 billion fundraising last month. That brought the company’s valuation to $45 billion, making Xiaomi the world’s most valuable start-up just four years after being founded. In fact, Xiaomi now comes in just behind Samsung and Apple in sales, meaning it is one of the top three smartphone makers in the world. So it’s pretty obvious why Zuckerberg was eager to go into business with Xiaomi.

Why, then, did the talks fail? It was said that part of the reason Lei turned down the offer was due to the potential political fallout of selling a stake in his company to Facebook. The U.S. social network is banned in China. It’s all part of a bigger effort by the Chinese government, which is afraid of the impact of a free internet. This has led to the implementation of all sorts of controls, dubbed the ‘Great Firewall of China’, and the blacklisting of a number of popular social media sites. In 2009, Facebook was added to that list.

Facebook is hardly alone in this regard. A more recent example came at the end of 2014 when Google’s Gmail was blocked. There was a huge outcry, including complaints from business travellers who could no longer access their email. Their Chinese counterparts were also frustrated with the increasing difficulty of conducting business internationally.

Both the failed Facebook/Xiaomi deal and the Gmail ban highlight the difficulty that international companies can face when investing in China. It is essential that any PR strategy takes into account that many means of communication are banned. Words must be carefully chosen because both domestic and international companies can have their online presence shut down completely if they violate the ban.

It is a delicate balancing act. Consider the example of Yahoo!, which decided to comply with China’s restrictions. Yahoo! then came under fire in the U.S. and found themselves defending their decision to Congress. The Company then had to admit that that it could not protect the privacy of its Chinese customers from authorities. One customer whose identity was turned over to authorities was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Obviously, when this news leaked it resulted in plenty of bad press for Yahoo! outside of China. 

The internet ban is certainly something to consider for any company wanting to do business in China. Ultimately, the economic implications of this firewall could be a far greater threat to sentiments amongst citizens than any online communications would have been. In order to facilitate cross-border investments, it is vital for the CCP to revise its media policy. For a little advice, Communist Party leaders might want to Google the phrase, “it’s the economy, stupid.” Oh wait. They can’t.

This week Abchaps hosted a market lunch with a focus on Asia. The group discussed the market sentiment and how Asia-based companies are developing in the London market in order to gauge future investor interest. Abchaps also celebrated David Brennan’s recent promotion at Gowlings to celebrate his. We congratulate him again on reaching Partner at the firm.

Charles Stanley appointed Peter Geikie-Cobb, formerly at F&C to head its Matterley business, with a new bond fund to be provided. Meanwhile, Ian Williams, previously at SGH Martineau,joined Baker Tilly as the International Lead for its Restructuring and Recovery service line. Eric Pang joined JLL to lead its UK markets group China desk.

“Great Firewall of China”- a term to describe Internet Censorship in China under a variety of laws, administrative regulations, and execution effort

Celebrate having Scotland as part of the UK tonight by attending the Ceilidh Club Burns Night – London’s biggest Burns Night event. With three hours of energetic ceilidh dancing and a buffet dinner of traditional Scottish haggis, neeps and tatties, it is a great way to socialise, exercise and have a laugh with friends!

If you are around Greenwich over the weekend or next week pop into the Royal Observatory which hosts the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. The free exhibition showcases remarkable feats of astrophotography entered into four categories: ‘Earth and Space’, ‘Our Solar System’, ‘Deep Space’ and ‘Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year’ for under-16s.

Take the opportunity over the weekend to visit The Nation Gallery’s exhibition which has become one of London’s biggest attractions since opening last week. ‘Rembrandt: the Late Works’ shows just four self-portrait canvases and a tiny etching by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, all made during the last 11 years of his life. This may not sound like a great deal but tell that to the queues outside the National Gallery!

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