Professor Friedmann on Chinese social media policy and their impact on trade practices

In his article, Professor Friedman tackles an important and under-researched topic, dealing with the interplay of technology and trade, and related to the social media regulation in China. A contradiction is, here, to be highlighted; on the one hand, social media play a key role within the media offered to the public in China, and in this sense it represents an indispensable instrument used by the Government to understand the thoughts and habits of Chinese people. It has to be taken into account that all countries acceding to the WTO must take market access commitments. For this reason, China has permitted foreign-service suppliers to establish joint ventures with a maximum foreign share of now 50 per cent. The case of Facebook is a very interesting example to explore this contradiction. It is widely known that, whilst a Chinese language version of the social media was launched on the site in 2008, China definitely banned the US social network site a year later. CEO Mark Zuckerberg visited China twice to see whether he could establish a joint venture with a Chinese firm. Zuckerberg has stated clearly that Facebook is willing to abide by China’s policy. "We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country in different ways. Our focus right now is on helping Chinese businesses and developers expand to new markets outside China by using our ad platform" Facebook said in a statement last August. What remains is the possibility to bring a case against China before the WTO; however, aggrieved companies must lobby their home government because they cannot bring the case directly themselves. What is worth to be highlighted here is that even if a company wins a WTO or BIT case, the government may still make market access de facto impossible from a practical perspective.