Twitter appointed Kathy Chen as its first managing director for China last week, and Chinese users don’t seem to like it. Many even expressed concerns on Twitter in regards to Chen’s appointment, as she has a background with the country’s military and state security apparatus.
Are the concerns justified?
Chinese users are concerned about their freedom of speech on the social media platform as Chen has past links to the Chinese government. The Chinese government exerts strict control over what can be said on social media platforms. Though Twitter is blocked in the country, the micro-blogging site is a great social media platform for Chinese people to freely express themselves in their native language, especially for those living outside China.
In a blog, He Qinglian, a prominent overseas-based Chinese political activist, said, “Twitter has vast amounts of users’ data. Given that U.S. tech firms have in the past kowtowed to China, and given the military background of Kathy Chen, it’s only reasonable for the Chinese users of Twitter to be worried about the future.”
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Chen worked for the People’s Liberation Army for seven years and headed an anti-virus company in a joint venture with connections to the Ministry of Public Security, noted Wen Yunchao, a U.S.-based political dissident.
“It’s only reasonable to question the direction of a company by its personnel decisions,” Wen noted.
Twitter defends Chen’s appointment
According to Chinese media reports, after graduating with a computer science degree from North Jiaotong University, Chen started working as a technical engineer for a military research institute in 1987. Later, she worked for Compaq, 123COM and DEC before leading the anti-virus company Jinchen, a joint venture in which the local partner was indirectly owned by the Ministry of Public Security.
Defending the appointment, Twitter said it was usual for the Chinese government to assign graduates to jobs in the 1980s. The social media platform said Chen’s computer science degree made her a prime candidate for a junior engineer’s job in the People’s Liberation Army.
“When the Chinese economy further opened up with reform in the early 1990s, Kathy chose to pursue her passion for a technology career by switching to the private sector in 1994,” the micro-blogging site said further.
Most recently, Chen was an executive with Microsoft’s Asia-Pacific Research and Development Group. Chen, who will be based in Hong Kong, has not yet commented on the concerns expressed by Chinese users.