What Might Zuckerberg’s Visit to Baidu Mean, If Anything?

Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg is not shy about his interest in China, despite the site being blocked in the country. Beyond studying Mandarin, and visiting during the holidays this year, he’s said specifically that he wants to find a way for Facebook to enter the world’s largest internet market.

So when photos leaked of him visiting Baidu offices, the first thing one might think is that Facebook is readying a push into China.

Any sort of entrance would mean some form of compromise with the Chinese government, as we’ve noted in past years, likely involving giving the government access to Facebook in order to censor whatever it considers undesirable user-generated content. While that move is sure to make Facebook another target for human rights organizations, the motive would be what Google’s was before it withdrew. Despite censorship, the line of thought goes, the existence of a service that helps people share and discover information would promote freedom of thought.

“On the philosophical question of openness, my view is that every country is pretty different. We’d want to be pretty culturally sensitive,” he said in October. “I don’t want Facebook to be an American company. I don’t want it to be a company that spreads American values across the world.”

It’s also possible that Zuckerberg was just visiting Baidu to say hi to chief executive Rob Li, who he has met before. Certainly, some of the new speculation — like the idea of Baidu buying Facebook — is nothing but hilarious.

But here’s something else. Take a look at Facebook’s integration in one of the other markets that it has been trying hard to crack: Russia. This fall, it announced that leading Russian search engine Yandex would be integrating status updates from Pages in its search results, and offering a Facebook widget in its core interface.

If Facebook were to launch in China, perhaps it would try to cut a similar deal with Baidu? That move could help the site gain traction in the country, despite the numerous established local competitors.

[Image via Shanghaiist.]