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Censorship the elephant in the room as Twitter courts Chinese firms at CES Asia in Shanghai

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 May, 2015, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 May, 2015, 12:31pm

A senior Twitter executive laid out the company's benefits to Chinese businesses looking to connect with a global audience at a talk in Shanghai that ignored restrictions placed on the service in China.

Opening the second day of the inaugural Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Asia, Twitter vice president of Asia Pacific, Latin America and emerging markets Shailesh Rao gave a keynote speech squarely aimed at Chinese firms in attendance.

"Twitter can help Chinese companies and organisations reach world audiences," Rao said.

"You have the power to ... reach people with shared interests anywhere in the world."

The unspoken exception to that global reach is mainland China, where Twitter has been blocked since 2009.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post in March, Peter Greenberger, Twitter's sales director for emerging markets, said the company was targeting "big [Chinese] advertisers looking to reach overseas".

This goal was clear in Rao's speech, which served as something of an introduction to Twitter for Chinese business leaders perhaps less familiar with the service than their foreign counterparts.

Twitter, which also has a booth in the main CES Asia conference hall, is completely inaccessible for attendees who do not use a virtual private network (VPN) to bypass internet restrictions, something which has become significantly more difficult in mainland China since the beginning of this year.

While Rao did not reference the fact that Twitter was blocked in China, the country was noticeably absent from slides discussing global participation in conversations around events such as the football World Cup or the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Speaking at the opening of Twitter's Hong Kong office earlier this year, Greenberger said that it was not the firm's intention to re-enter the mainland Chinese market, where it would face stiff competition from domestic social media platforms even if the government ban was lifted.

Instead, Twitter aims to become a tool for Chinese businesses that are already engaged with local audiences on social media to build similar followings overseas.

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"Our ideal customer is someone who is advertising on Weibo and wants to do the same for an international audience," Greenberger said.

Rao mentioned Alibaba, Air China and Xiaomi as three examples of Chinese companies which are using Twitter to build their brands overseas.

"We're seeing Chinese companies extend to reach audiences around the world [and] Twitter can be ... the bridge to do that," he said.

One sector which has embraced Twitter, as well as fellow blocked-in-China service Facebook, is Chinese state media. State news agency Xinhua, major newspapers including the People's Daily and Global Times, and broadcaster CCTV all have active Twitter accounts on which they publish content in multiple languages.