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Twitter criticised for appointing China MD with former Communist Party links


By Rebecca Stewart, Trends Editor

April 18, 2016 | 5 min read

Twitter's choice of newly-appointed managing director for China, Kathy Chen, is coming under intense scrutiny from users who have expressed concerns over her background of working with the country's military and state security departments.

Despite being banned in mainland China, Twitter last week announced that Chen was set to head up the social network's operations there and lead its efforts to cater to advertisers, influencers and other business partners in the region.

Chief executive Jack Dorsey offered her a "big welcome" but a number of active Chinese users on the US-based site have taken issue with her former links to the Chinese Communist Party government.

Prior to joining the flock, Chen most recently served as general manager of Microsoft’s cloud and enterprise product group in the APAC region. However, Wen Yunchao, a US-based political dissident, took to Twitter to highlight other positions she has held – noting that Chen previously worked for the People's Liberation Army for seven years and was involved in a joint venture with Jinchen that was partly owned by the country’s powerful home security arm, the Ministry of Public Security.

Chen's first tweets, which included a message of cooperation to state-owned broadcaster, China Central Television and the promise of a "closer partnership" to party-controlled news agency Xinhua have also caused a stir among users.

Twitter responded to the concerns via a statement, saying that it was not unusual for the Chinese government to assign graduates jobs in the 1980s and that Chen's schooling in computer science made her a strong candidate for the role of junior engineer 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," it asserted. It also said the second role on her résumé under scrutiny, with Jinchen, was to represent the interests of a US majority shareholder Computer Associates, adding that she "never worked for the Ministry of Public Security."

Along with Facebook and YouTube, Twitter is barred in China, but it's believed to have about 18,000 users in the country, with people living on the mainland having to use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to access the platform. Chen's appointment signals the social giant's desire to form closer relationships with Chinese advertisers to help them reach a global audience.

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