Tea Leaf Nation

Chinese Social App Takes Awkward Dig at Mark Zuckerberg

WeChat now appears to have Facebook -- or at least its founder -- in its crosshairs.

Better watch out, Facebook. China's hottest mobile messaging-cum-social media app is out on the prowl, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's 1.23 billion user global social networking empire may be in its crosshairs.

WeChat, a popular app by Chinese Internet giant Tencent that boasts more than 355 million users across the globe, has just trolled Zuckerberg in a decidedly awkward new advertisement posted on video-sharing site Youtube and evidently intended to promote the app in South Africa (where a media company, Naspers holds a stake in Tencent). The video, shown below, features a weepy Zuckerberg look-alike confessing his social media woes to a Freudian psychotherapist with a bad Austrian accent. The inexplicably randy shrink diagnoses Zuckerberg with "friendophobia" and prescribes WeChat's Friend Radar feature, which locates nearby WeChat users, as a cure. (Facebook and Tencent did not immediately respond to requests for comment.)

Relative newcomer WeChat has already proven itself to be a fierce competitor. Its battle with the more established Weibo, China's massive Twitter-like social media platform, has been well under way since 2012, when Weibo usage began to decline in the face of tough competition from WeChat. Weibo reported net losses of $47 million during the first quarter of 2014, though its recent successful IPO emphasizes its still-formidable position among investors.  WeChat and WhatsApp, Facebook's newly acquired messenger with more than 500 million users, have also squared off in the media boxing ring. While the majority of WeChat's users are in China, in 2013 WeChat reported that 100 million of its user accounts were now found outside of China, primarily in India, Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia.

The fight for global social network dominance isn't exactly a fair one. Facebook has been blocked on the Chinese mainland since July 2008, which persists in the face of what looks like strong netizen desire for the platform there. Even with one hand bound behind its back, Facebook is hardly the weakling of Asia; it now boasts 390 million users in the region, up from 319 million at the beginning of 2013. But if Facebook wants to keep WeChat from poaching, it might want to make sure it's got a few more tricks up its sleeve. Finding a way to get unblocked in China would certainly help.

h/t Tech in Asia

Photo: Getty Images

Tea Leaf Nation

Zhou Decline Watch: Expanding the Purge?

Tracking the downfall of one of the most feared men in China.

In Chinese, just like in English, there are many gradients of unprecedented. Po Tianhuang, which literally means to "break the scarcity of heaven," is one of the strongest. 

Read more from FP on Zhou Yongkang

Chinese President Xi Jinping is in the midst of what is probably the biggest anti-corruption campaign since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. He is almost certainly going after China's former security czar Zhou Yongkang -- the first time an official who served in the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), China's top ruling body, has been targeted. Xi is also fighting graft in the military. The case against Lt. Gen. Gu Junshan, who was quietly dismissed from the People's Liberation Army (PLA), China's military, in 2012, may turn into the biggest corruption scandal in PLA history -- it is extremely rare for the ruling Chinese Communist Party to publically accuse top Chinese military figures of corruption.

Amidst the unprecedented crackdown, rumors of a new target has begun to float around the Internet: He Guoqiang, formerly China's top anti-corruption official, who served with Zhou on the PSC from 2007 to 2012. The rumors appear to have started with a corruption probe of Song Lin, the former head of one of China's most powerful state-owned enterprise, China Resources. "By investigating Song Lin it looks like the leadership has decided to go after He Guoqiang," Hong Kong based anti-corruption activist Li Jianjun told the Financial Times. Song, the FT reported, citing people familiar with the matter and Chinese media reports from outside of China, is "closely associated" with He's son. Duowei, a New York based Chinese-language news site with a decent record of anticipating Chinese political scandals, claimed in an April 23 story that He's absence means he may be in trouble. 

It's important to emphasize allegations of He's involvement are still at the level of rumor. Like almost all retired Chinese officials, He has kept a low profile -- he has not made a public appearance since 2012 --and his absence from the spotlight doesn't mean he is being investigated. His name could drop from the discussion. But if Xi is really trying to make the case that no one, not even former members of the PSC, are above scrutiny, maybe he thinks breaking just one precedent is not enough.