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LinkedIn Loses Its China Connection

After years of operating at the whims of Chinese regulators, the networking platform will finally follow Facebook and Twitter out of the country.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
LinkedIn app on a cellphone
The LinkedIn app is seen on a mobile phone on Jan. 11. Edward Smith/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: LinkedIn walks away from China, EU and U.K. Brexit officials meet in Brussels, and Lebanon holds day of mourning following street violence.

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LinkedIn Leaves China

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: LinkedIn walks away from China, EU and U.K. Brexit officials meet in Brussels, and Lebanon holds day of mourning following street violence.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

LinkedIn Leaves China

If you were to use the perpetually upbeat language of the platform it owns, you might say Microsoft is “energetically seeking new and exciting opportunities”—just not in China. The software giant decided to pull its professional networking site LinkedIn from the country on Thursday, making it the last major U.S. social network to leave China amid a crackdown on online expression.

In a statement, Mohak Shroff, LinkedIn’s senior vice president of engineering, cited “a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements” in China as the impetus behind the move.

LinkedIn follows Facebook and Twitter (both blocked since 2009) out of the country as China’s online regulator forces a choice between playing ball with Beijing or exiting entirely to avoid the hassle. Increasingly harsh penalties, including prison time, for internet users posting comments critical of the Chinese government have made doing business particularly arduous for the social network.

LinkedIn’s troubles in China came to the fore in March, when it paused new Chinese sign-ups and was given 30 days by China’s internet regulator to further police content on its platform. The pressure led LinkedIn to block the profiles of several activists and academics from being viewed in China, regardless of whether they were residents or not.

It’s not the end for Microsoft in China. It still makes software that is widely used, and its search engine Bing is still available in a country where Google is not. Even LinkedIn in China won’t go fully dark, as the company plans on retooling as a pure jobs board, removing any features that could run afoul of Chinese regulators.

The episode reflects the ways in which the West and China are continuing to diverge on the previously shared space of the World Wide Web. China has even begun pushing for its own version of the internet. Dubbed New IP, the Huawei-developed infrastructure allows for more government control than today’s more freewheeling internet, with the ability to restrict individual users at will.

As LinkedIn leaves China, U.S. hysteria over the Chinese-owned TikTok app appears to have waned, a year after a threat to ban it under then-President Donald Trump. Backlash against the app may yet resurface, however, after President Joe Biden in June gave government agencies 180 days to assess and report on the national security risks associated with foreign-owned apps.

What We’re Following Today

Matters of protocol. The United Kingdom’s Brexit minister David Frost meets with his European Union counterpart Maros Sefcovic in Brussels today, days after the two laid out separate ways to resolve problems stemming from the Northern Ireland protocol of the Brexit agreement. Frost called for scrapping the current protocol in a speech on Tuesday, while Sefcovic outlined plans to ease certain trade restrictions on imports to Northern Ireland on Wednesday.

Lebanon’s day of mourning. Lebanon holds a day of mourning today after six people were killed in street clashes in the capital, Beirut, on Thursday. Fighting broke out between opposing militias following a demonstration by supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement protesting the judge heading the inquiry into the deadly port blast of August 2020. Both Hezbollah and the Christian Lebanese Forces party have accused each other of firing the first shot in Thursday’s clashes.

Keep an Eye On

Malley goes East. Robert Malley, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, begins a weeklong trip to the Middle East today that will include stops in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia to discuss Iran’s nuclear program and a potential return to international negotiations in Vienna.

The trip comes after Malley said on Wednesday that the United States would weigh “all options” if Tehran did not consider returning to the constraints of the 2015 deal. Malley’s comments came the same day U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration was “prepared to turn to other options if Iran doesn’t change course.”

Kishidanomics? Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida offered veiled criticism of the so-called Abenomics pursued by his two predecessors and hinted at a new economic direction for the world’s third-largest economy in his first interview with Western media since taking over from Yoshihide Suga earlier this month. Speaking to the Financial Times ahead of Japan’s Oct. 31 elections, Kishida said he hoped to usher in a “new form of capitalism” that would raise incomes across Japanese society.

Odds and Ends

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s cousin Ali Makhlouf, the son of Syrian business tycoon Rami Makhlouf, has been spotted in Los Angeles driving a $285,000 Ferrari sports car despite apparently not having a job and having a father on a U.S. sanctions list since 2008. Makhlouf was captured on video by chance after he was ambushed by Daniel Mac, an Instagram star popular for a series in which he approaches sports car drivers to ask what they do for a living.

Makhlouf initially stumbled over Mac’s questioning, eventually deciding that he is working an “internship” and adding hastily that the Ferrari is a rental.

Correction, Oct. 15, 2021: Mohak Shroff is LinkedIn’s senior vice president of engineering; this article has been updated to correct a misspelling in his name.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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