Facebook Reuters

Social networking site Facebook on Tuesday opened shop in Hong Kong to expand its presence in Asia notwithstanding its ban in mainland China.

Facebook said the opening of a sales office in Hong Kong following Singapore last year demonstrated its commitment to Asia and in particular to Hong Kong and Taiwan where there are active online populations and sophisticated digital marketing communities.

Last year, Facebook opened shop in Singapore buoyed by the rise in Internet traffic in the region and the growing popularity of social networking sites.

The California-based social networking site had in March last year announced the opening of a new office in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad to oversee advertising and customer support.

“We are investing in a team to scale with the business here in the region, and will start with a handful of employees and add more as the business grows,” AFP reported quoting a company spokeswoman.

However, the company declined to disclose the number of Facebook users in Hong Kong and Taiwan. The site has about 500 million users worldwide.

While playing down the idea that Facebook is eyeing a move into China, where it remains banned by opening the Hong Kong office, Blake Chandlee, vice-president and commercial director for emerging markets said, “We have no plans right now to talk about entering into mainland China and trying to be aggressive in that.”

Facebook is available in all the Chinese dialects, Chandlee said adding that it ensured as a first step that people are able to experience Facebook in a language they are comfortable with.

Internet search company Google shut down its Chinese search engine last year and re-routed mainland users automatically to its uncensored site in semi-autonomous Chinese territory of Hong Kong. Subsequently, Google ended the automatic re-direct to avoid suspension of its license by China.

Last year, Google had also claimed it was victim of a cyber attack in mid-December 2009 originating from China, meant to gain access to e-mail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

Vietnam and Thailand have moved to limit political debate online in recent years by attempting to block some sites, including Facebook.