Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold. Well, China seems to be serving up vengeance with an icy finesse. Just ask Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and founder of Meta, who recently learned this lesson the hard way.
According to the South China Morning Post, a social media account with a massive following, run by Beijing Daily, decided to take a swipe at the American tech mogul. You see, Zuckerberg’s company is trying to crack the Chinese market by selling virtual reality (VR) gear, but things probably won’t go so smoothly. The Beijing Daily account shared an opinion piece that highlighted how Zuckerberg played a pivotal role in lobbying Congress to ban TikTok, one of Meta’s major competitors owned by the Beijing-based ByteDance.
The piece also pointed out instances in which Zuckerberg criticized TikTok for censorship in a speech at Georgetown University and accused China of intellectual property theft during a congressional hearing. It thus called for him to get cut out from China altogether – and Chinese officials might just heed this call. With all of this, it seems that Zuckerberg was not only trying to undercut his competition, but also vent his frustration at China for not embracing his advances over the years. Allow me to explain.
It all goes back to July 2009 when the Urumqi riots erupted in China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The riots resulted in significant casualties, injuries, arrests, and property damage. And guess what? Facebook was one of the main platforms used by the rioters to organize their activities. So, naturally, the Chinese government blocked Facebook (and other US social media apps), and most Chinese people saw it as a necessary measure against terrorism in their country. As if that wasn’t enough, Instagram got blocked too in 2014 for fueling separatist protests in Hong Kong.
But here’s the kicker – despite facing resistance in China, Zuckerberg and Facebook decided to cozy up to Lu Wei, the then-head of the Cyberspace Administration of China, in the same year. Zuckerberg even had President Xi Jinping’s book, ‘The Governance of China’, strategically placed on his desk during that meeting for reporters to see. He also met with a senior Communist Party of China leader in 2016 to discuss creating a better global community in cyberspace. Now, you might think these gestures were genuine attempts to bridge the gap, but let’s just say they were a little awkward.
I mean, asking the Chinese president to name your unborn child? I’m not even sure a cyborg would misread common social etiquette so badly. He also wrote a cringy review of Xi Jinping’s aforementioned book and got bodied by Chinese social media users after posting a photo of him jogging in a smoggy Tiananmen Square in 2016. Don’t even get me started on when Zuck tried to run his Chinese language software at Tsinghua University in 2014.
Zuckerberg probably thought he had it all figured out, using his personal connections, understanding of Chinese culture (his wife is Chinese), and carefully calculated moves to gain an edge over his American peers like Google and Microsoft in the Chinese market. But alas, Beijing wasn’t impressed, and made it clear that his charm offensive wasn’t going to work. And can you blame the Chinese? Even the EU, Australia, and other Western-aligned countries are starting to crack down on Meta for data mishandling and the dangers of disinformation. Looks like Zuck’s plan hit a bit of a snag.
When all else failed, it seems Zuckerberg’s entitled rage kicked in. You know, that frustration Westerners often experience when things don’t go their way abroad – that kind of impotent rage. And that’s when he decided to take a swing at TikTok, not just for business reasons but also on a personal level. Banning his biggest competitor from the US market would not only help Meta recover from recent losses but would also serve as a vindication of sorts for his almost-unnamed child, courtesy of President Xi’s refusal to play baby name games.
But let’s be real here, for Beijing, it was never personal. The ban on Meta’s products in China was driven by national interests, not petty grudges. And with President Xi’s anti-corruption stance, it was pretty clear that Zuckerberg’s attempts to cozy up wouldn’t yield the desired results. Politics in Beijing don’t work the way Zuck might be used to in Washington. (Someone needs to localize his software, apparently).
Despite all the time and effort wasted on buttering up Beijing, Zuckerberg committed an unforgivable sin by opportunistically aligning with the US national security state against China. Well, you can’t expect that to go unnoticed or be easily forgiven. If Beijing decides to intervene in Meta’s Quest VR deal with Tencent, Zuckerberg only has himself to blame. And let’s be honest, most of us non-billionaires can’t help but find it both well-deserved – and also pretty darn funny.
So, the moral of the story? Revenge might be best served cold, but it’s even more satisfying when it comes with a touch of irony. And poor Zuckerberg, in his quest for Chinese market dominance, ended up getting a taste of his own medicine. Better luck next time, Zuck, and remember, it’s not just about business – it’s about knowing when not to poke the dragon.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
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