For a few hours, it looked like Facebook had successfully reentered China. And then, just as quick as it began, the dream ended.
The New York Times reports (paywall):
For several hours, a Chinese government database showed that Facebook had gained approval to open a subsidiary in the eastern province of Zhejiang. Facebook said it would use the company to set up an innovation hub there.
Then the registration disappeared, and references to the subsidiary were partly censored in Chinese media.
Now the approval has been withdrawn, according to a person familiar with the matter who declined to be named because the person was not authorized to speak on the record.
Evidently, Facebook gained permission from the local authorities in Zhejiang Province, but did not double check to clear the move with China’s ultimate internet authority, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC). CAC was “angry that it had not been consulted more closely,” a source told the Times.
Lorand Laskai, a researcher who focuses on China’s moves in cyberspace, interpreted the news this way: “The CAC’s reputation as China’s internet gatekeeper relies on being able to make the world’s biggest internet companies grovel at its feet for access to China. No company’s failure to enter China so vividly demonstrates the CAC’s power as Facebook’s. Why give that up?”